From Hog Scalders to Hotels
When Admiral Richard E. Byrd took
Kohler generators on his famous Antarctic
expeditions and reported to the world that
they had performed flawlessly under
extremely adverse conditions, the Kohler
name and its reputation for durability and
dependability were solidified in consumers’
KOHLER’S FOUNDER, JOHN MICHAEL KOHLER, WAS AN AUSTRIAN immigrant, a businessman and a visionary. In 1873, eager to make a name for himself, the young entrepreneur pur- chased a small cast iron and steel foundry in Sheboygan,
Wis., and settled into life on the shores of Lake Michigan. That might
have been the end of it, were it not for his fateful decision one day to coat
an iron hog scalder with enamel and market it as a bathtub.
Around the turn of the century, Kohler
moved these fellow immigrants and his
small plumbing company to the tiny
settlement of Riverside, four miles outside
of Sheboygan. He had grand plans for the
area, which locals jokingly dubbed
“Kohler’s Folly.” They were plans that at
the time only he could envision.
Today, more than a century later, the
reach of Kohler Co. extends far beyond the
shores of Lake Michigan to encompass an
enterprise on six continents with
manufacturing locations in 16 countries
and more than 30,000 associates
worldwide. The name of this audacious
young immigrant has become synonymous
with quality and originality, and the
business he founded is one of America’s
oldest and largest privately held companies.
One of the first exercises in creative expansion came when John Michael’s son, Walter Kohler, decided to add electric generators to the company’s product mix in 1920. The first of those generators was called the “Kohler Automatic Power and Light.” It was a rugged 1,500-watt model powered by a Kohler-built cast iron gasoline engine and it provided the electrical power that rural America desperately needed.
It was an instant hit, and a new, exciting business was born. Plumbing fixtures and enameled ware soon accounted for 70 percent of the company’s total business. Kohler’s 65 employees, many of them immigrants like himself, brought their Old World craftsmanship, indomitable work ethic, and commitment to excellence to this new venture.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF KOHLER CO.
spans 137 years
Opposite page: Clockwise from right to left: Kohler Co.’s first bathtub; John Michael Kohler; Kohler Co.’s first factory; Walter J. Kohler Sr.; Herbert V. Kohler Sr. Below: Pictured is the company's general office in Kohler, Wis.
80 THE OFFICIAL PROGRAM OF THE 2010 PGA CHAMPIONSHIP