Kohler Co.

Kohler Co.
Industry Manufacturing, Hospitality
Founded 1873
Founder John Michael Kohler
Headquarters 444 Highland Drive
Kohler, Wisconsin
Key people
David Kohler (President & CEO), Herbert Kohler, Jr. (Chairman)
Products plumbing fixtures, tile, furniture and cabinetry, engines, generators
Number of employees
32,000 (2015)
Website kohler.com

Kohler Co., founded in 1873 by John Michael Kohler, is an American manufacturing company based in Kohler, Wisconsin.[1] Kohler is best known for its plumbing products, but the company also manufactures furniture, cabinetry, tile, engines, and generators. Destination Kohler also owns various hospitality establishments in the United States and Scotland.


Kohler Co. was co-founded in 1873 by Austrian immigrant John Michael Kohler and Charles Silberzahn with the purchase of the Sheboygan Union Iron and Steel Foundry from Kohler's father-in-law, Jacob Vollrath for $5000.[2] Early products included cast iron and steel farm implements, castings for furniture factories, and ornamental iron pieces including cemetery crosses and settees. A breakthrough came in 1883 when John Michael applied enamel to a cast iron horse trough to create the company's first bathtub. The company has been primarily in the plumbing business ever since, and is known for its plumbing fixtures.

In the early 20th century, Kohler made drinking fountains with a "bubbling valve", from which water shot vertically. Eventually the entire fountain came to be known as a "bubbler" in the area in which Kohler products were sold.[3] The term "bubbler" is still used in most of Wisconsin and some other areas of the United States.[4][5]

In 1934 and 1954, Kohler Strikes took place. On November 15, 2015, workers voted for the 2015 Kohler Strike, making it the fourth strike in the company's history; the third taking place in 1983 and only lasting a few weeks.

Corporate management history

Former Wisconsin Governor Walter J. Kohler, Sr. was President of Kohler Co. and his son former Wisconsin Governor Walter J. Kohler, Jr. served for many years in senior management. The presidency of Kohler was been passed down from Herbert Kohler, Jr. (born February 20, 1939. grandson of the founder), to his son, David Kohler, on June 1, 2015.

In 1998, Kohler made a plan to buy back any outstanding shares not owned by the family. All family members had to exchange their common shares for shares with limited rights that could not be sold. Since Kohler is not a publicly traded company, the number of shares floating were minimal. Kohler offered $55,400 per share, but some shareholders challenged this valuation and sued. The IRS also challenged this valuation by prosecuting the estate of Frederick Kohler, who had recently died holding 975 shares, but Kohler won the lawsuit.[6]

Hiring practices

In 1999, a court case was brought by the United States Department of Labor alleging that Kohler Co.'s hiring practices were discriminatory to women.[7] The company had an informal height requirement of 5'4" for women, which is the average adult female height in the United States.[8] Because of its contracts with the federal government, the company was prohibited from enforcing this requirement[9] and as part of a settlement agreed to hire 111 of the 2,000 women who had applied to work at Kohler from 1994 to 1995 and to undertake a study "to eliminate unnecessary barriers to women".


Kohler "Bardon" urinals
Power generator GS 400 produced by SDMO Industries
Kohler Design Center

Kohler's bath and kitchen fixtures are available in American hardware and home improvement stores and from Kohler Kitchen and Bath distributors. Kohler still makes traditional cast iron bathtubs, one of the few United States manufacturers to do so. Besides residential products, Kohler manufactures a commercial line of bathroom fixtures. The company also does artistic custom work, such as hand-painted sinks and toilets. Kohler was named by "The Builder Magazine" as the "most used" and "best quality" in the "Bath Accessories" category as well as the top spot for "brand familiarity", "most used" and "quality rating" in the "Bath Fixtures" and "Whirlpool Baths" categories.[10]

Kohler also makes a wide range of small industrial engines. Traditionally, the company manufactured gasoline engines, however, after purchasing the Italian company Lombardini, it extended its range and now offers diesel engines up to 134HP.[11] Kohler engines power a range of devices from water pumps to off-road vehicles. The Global Power group manufactures generators of varying sizes. Kohler was the first company to offer residential back-up generators, starting in 1920.[12]

In 2007, Kohler created a joint venture in China called Kohler-YinXiang Ltd., based in Chongqing, China, to manufacture small gasoline engines, and intends to begin importing more of their engines, rather than building them in the US.[13][14] Kohler's UK subsidiary is the Cheltenham-based Kohler Mira Ltd, best known for manufacturing Mira Showers.

Since then, the company has been expanding in the areas of furniture, cabinetry, and tile in the consumer market, and engines and generators for industry. The Kohler Interiors division of the company comprises Baker Furniture, McGuire Furniture, Kallista, Ann Sacks Tile and Mark David.

Kohler displays many of its products at the Kohler Design Center in the village of Kohler.

Destination Kohler

Main article: Destination Kohler

Kohler Co.'s hospitality and real estate group, Destination Kohler, oversees the management, marketing and tourism promotion for its golf courses, hotels, private clubs, shops, restaurants, company-sponsored and village events. The American Club is a highly rated resort hotel in the Midwest.

John Michael Kohler Arts Center

Kohler Co. is affiliated with the non-profit John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, which occupies a square block of downtown Sheboygan that contains Kohler's restored former mansion, several newer buildings, and the exterior structure of the former Carnegie-era Mead Public Library building as a modern "ruin." The John Michael Kohler Arts Center operates an Arts/Industry program, the primary component of which is a residency program at Kohler. Artists have the opportunity to spend two to six months creating works of art using the industrial materials and equipment.

Entrance to The American Club

Residential Review Committee

Kohler Co. Residential Review Committee reviews certain modifications to residential properties in the Village of Kohler to ensure compliance with planning concepts and architectural forms originally created by the Kohler Improvement Company.[15]

Village residents who wish to build additions to their homes, install or replace fences, build decks or install a shed or detached garages must have an approval letter from Kohler Co. Residential Review Committee before seeking approval from the village planning commission.[16]


Wikimedia Commons has media related to Kohler Co..
  1. Jeff Engel (October 29, 2012), "Hurricane Sandy puts Wisconsin generator makers into overdrive", Milwaukee Business Journal, bizjournals.com, retrieved October 30, 2012
  2. Derdak (2000). International Directory of Company Histories, Vol 32. St. James Press.
  3. Tom Tolan. "More Milwaukee-ese: The bubbler". Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, November 2, 2007. Accessed July 3, 2016.
  4. Beth Dippel. "Debunking the the bubbler myth". Sheboygan Press, October 31, 2014. Accessed July 3, 2016.
  5. Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures. "Wisconsin Englishes: Words".
  6. "IRS Over-Values Interest in Kohler Company by $100 Million Dollars". The Judicial View. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  7. "Kohler Will Pay Nearly $900,000 in Back Pay to Resolve Discriminatory Hiring Practices". U.S. Labor Department. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  8. Anthropometric Reference Data for Children and Adults 2003–2006
  9. http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/qanda.html
  10. "2015 BUILDER BRAND USE STUDY RESULTS". Builder. Retrieved 19 June 2015.
  11. http://www.kohlerengines.com/onlinecatalog/serieslanding.htm?series=Kohler%20Diesel%20KDI%20Electronic
  12. Blodgett, Richard (2003). A Sense of Higher Design-The Kohlers of Kohler.
  13. "About Kohler Engines". Kohler Company. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  14. "Kohler Creates Joint Venture With Chinese Engine Maker". RERMAG. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  15. "Kohler Co. Residential Review Committee Submission" (PDF). Kohler Company. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  16. "Building Permits". Village of Kohler. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
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