|Founders||John Michael Kohler|
|Headquarters||Kohler, Wisconsin, United States|
|Products||plumbing fixtures, tile, furniture and cabinetry, engines, generators|
The Kohler Company, founded in 1873, is an American manufacturing company based in Kohler, Wisconsin. Kohler is best known for its plumbing products, but the company also manufactures furniture, cabinetry, tile, engines, and generators. Kohler also owns various hospitality establishments in the United States and Scotland.
Kohler 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. 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, known for plumbing fixtures. In 1888, the then Kohler Water Works developed the original trademarked Bubbler. They became popular, and other companies developed similar products under the generic term "drinking fountain." The colloquial word "bubbler" is still used in several regions of the United States.
In 1934 and 1954, the Kohler Strikes took place.
The Kohler group acquired 2005 Sdmo Industries, a manufacturer of power generators, along with SOREEL (electrical engineering) and BES (maintenance of engine-generators) from the French Meunier Holding.
Former Wisconsin Governor Walter J. Kohler, Sr. was President of Kohler Company and his son former Wisconsin Governor Walter J. Kohler, Jr. served for many years in senior management. Today, the president of Kohler is Herbert V. Kohler, Jr. (born February 20, 1939), grandson of the founder.
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, those 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. Kohler won the lawsuit against the IRS.
Kohler's bath and kitchen fixtures are available in American hardware and home improvement stores and from 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 also makes a wide range of small industrial engines. Traditionally, the company manufactured gasoline engines, however after purchasing Lombardini company (Italy), it extended its range and now offers diesel engines up to 65HP. 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 USA.
Kohler engines power a range of devices from water pumps to off-road vehicles. The Global Power group manufactures generators ranging in size from 8,500 watts to 2.8 megawatts. Kohler was the first company to offer residential back-up generators to consumers, starting in 1920.
More recently, 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.
Kohler Co. also has a Hospitality and Real Estate Group, which owns a golf resort in Kohler called The American Club. The American Club is the only AAA 5-Diamond resort hotel in the entire Midwest. The Whistling Straits golf course is associated with the resort and hosted the PGA Championship in 2004 and 2010, and the U.S. Senior Open in 2007. The PGA Championship will be hosted again in 2015 as well as the Ryder Cup in 2020. Blackwolf Run, another golf course in Kohler, features two courses, and will host the 2012 U.S. Women's Open.
John Michael Kohler Arts Center
The Kohler Company 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 Company. Artists have the opportunity to spend two to six months creating works of art using the industrial materials and equipment.
In 1999, a court case was brought by the United States Department of Labor alleging that the Kohler Company's hiring practices were discriminatory to women. The company had an informal height requirement of 5'4" for women, which is the average adult female height in the United States. Because of its contracts with the federal government, the company was prohibited from enforcing this requirement 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."
- Jeff Engel (October 29, 2012), Hurricane Sandy puts Wisconsin generator makers into overdrive, Milwaukee Business Journal, bizjournals.com, retrieved October 30, 2012
- Derdak (2000). International Directory of Company Histories, Vol 32. St. James Press.
- Blodgett, Richard (2003). A Sense of Higher Design-The Kohlers of Kohler.
- Anthropometric Reference Data for Children and Adults 2003–2006
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