The King wants your pee!
In 1626 King Charles I of England passed the first urine laws, a set of laws mandating that English citizens collect their urine in whatever handy receptacle was available. Citizens all over the kingdom peed into bottles and would place them on their doorsteps the next morning. Why was it that the king wanted his citizens pee so badly?
Among the many chemicals that make up urine is the precious element potassium, needed to create saltpeter (potassium nitrate) for the production of gunpowder. At the time potassium nitrate could only be found in decaying plant matter and human urine. So the citizens of England would pee in jugs, the jugs would be collected by workers called “petermen”, and the urine would be distilled for its important chemicals producing gunpowder for the kings army.
In 1642 the English Parliament rebelled against King Charles I, signalling the beginning of the English Civil War. In order to defeat the “roundheads” as the Parliamentarian rebels were called, the king needed vast amounts of saltpeter, and thus urine. In every English city controlled by the royalists, special privy’s were installed where large amounts of urine could be collected. Women were especially encouraged to save their pee, since for some reason female urine contains higher concentrations of potassium. Incredibly at Sunday Mass, instead of a collection basket, jugs were passed around and faithful parishioners donated to the cause of Anglicanism and to defeat the Puritans (this is true, I kid you not!). Unfortunately for Charles I, no amount of pee could save his rule or his life. He was deposed by Oliver Cromwell and beheaded as a traitor.
The urine laws of England would not be the last instance in which pee was collected for the good of the state. One of the most notable examples of urine collecting in American history was during the American Civil War. The Union had no problem producing potassium nitrate as the north was a very industrialized region. The agricultural south, however, could not produce enough, and it was not uncommon for Confederate women to save their urine for the southern cause.