Kohler Co.

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Kohler Co., founded in 1873 by John Michael Kohler, is an American manufacturing company based in Kohler, Wisconsin.[2] 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. In February 2017, Kohler Co. acquired UK-based Clarke Energy from the management team and ECI Partners,[3] a multinational specialist in the engineering, construction, installation and maintenance of engine-based power plants and is an authorised distributor of GE's reciprocating engines in 19 countries worldwide.[4]

Kohler Co.
IndustryManufacturing, hospitality
Founded1873; 148 years ago (1873)
FounderJohn Michael Kohler
Headquarters444 Highland Drive
Kohler, Wisconsin, U.S.
Area served
Key people
David Kohler
(Chairman and CEO)
Herbert Kohler Jr.
(Executive Chairman)
Productsplumbing fixtures, tile, furniture and cabinetry, engines, generators
OwnerKohler family
Number of employees
40,000[1] (2019)


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.[5] 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.[6] The term bubbler is still used in a few areas of Wisconsin and some other areas of the United States.[7][8]

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

Corporate management historyEdit

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 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 was minimal.[vague] 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.[9]

Hiring practicesEdit

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.[10] The company had an informal height requirement of 5 ft 4 in (1.63 m) for women, which is the average adult female height in the United States.[11] Because of its contracts with the federal government, the company was prohibited from enforcing this requirement[12] 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".[This quote needs a citation]

Working conditionsEdit

In 2005, China Labor Watch accused Kohler China (Investment) Co., Ltd. of major worker rights violation at its Foshan factory. These included: excessive work hours, lack of overtime pay, low wage payment, unsafe working conditions, uncompensated work injuries, and denying workers the ability to form their own union.[13]


In January 2020, Kohler paid $20 million in a settlement with the United States Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency and the state of California over its small engines' violations of the Clean Air Act and California law.[14]


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. In 2015 Kohler was named by 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.[15]

The Kohler Walk-In Bath Division designs, engineers and builds accessible bathtubs that are easier to enter than traditional bathtub models. The division specializes in bathing products for people with limited mobility or who are disabled. Founded in 2015, this specialty division sells its bathtubs through independent dealers across the United States.

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 134 HP.[16] 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.[17]

In 1984 Kohler acquired Sterling Faucet Company. The company was renamed as Sterling Plumbing Group Inc. The Sterling brand was integrated into Kohler family of products. Kohler later expanded the offering of Sterling products adding to the faucet line, shower doors, sinks, toilets, and other bathroom accessories.[18]

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.[19][20] 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.

At CES 2018 Kohler unveiled a new product line called Kohler Konnect, consisting of smart connected plumbing fixtures including bathtubs, mirrors, shower heads, toilets, and shower valves. These new digital fixtures have WiFi capabilities, enabling voice assistant control through Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa or Apple HomeKit, and app control support via the Kohler Konnect app.[21] The Kohler Konnect services are powered by the Microsoft Azure Cloud platform.[22]

Destination KohlerEdit

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 CenterEdit

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.

Residential review committeeEdit

The company continues to maintain a residential review committee (similar to a homeowner association) which ensures the compliance of the original Kohler Village plans and architectural designs from the defunct Kohler Improvement Company. Residents who want to add onto their home, build new outbuildings or fences must receive Kohler Company RRC approval before taking their plans to the planning commission, and comply with the design and aesthetic standards of the Kohler Company RRC.[23][24]

Primary competitorsEdit



  1. ^ https://www.forbes.com/companies/kohler/?list=largest-private-companies&sh=2e3ebcb111fe
  2. ^ Jeff Engel (October 29, 2012), "Hurricane Sandy puts Wisconsin generator makers into overdrive", Milwaukee Business Journal, bizjournals.com, retrieved October 30, 2012
  3. ^ White, Lucy (February 2, 2017). "ECI more than doubles money on exit of Clarke Energy to Kohler – Real Deals". Real Deals. Retrieved August 30, 2017.
  4. ^ "Kohler Co. Acquires UK-based Clarke Energy". PR Newswire. Retrieved February 2, 2017.
  5. ^ Derdak (2000). International Directory of Company Histories, Vol 32. St. James Press.
  6. ^ Tom Tolan (November 2, 2007). "More Milwaukee-ese: The bubbler". Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Retrieved July 3, 2016.
  7. ^ Beth Dippel. "Debunking the the bubbler myth". Sheboygan Press, October 31, 2014. Accessed July 3, 2016.
  8. ^ Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures. "Wisconsin Englishes: Words" Archived June 3, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  9. ^ "IRS Over-Values Interest in Kohler Company by $100 Million Dollars [sic]". The Judicial View. Retrieved November 18, 2015.
  10. ^ "Kohler Will Pay Nearly $900,000 in Back Pay to Resolve Discriminatory Hiring Practices". U.S. Labor Department. September 23, 1999. Archived from the original on August 29, 2017. Retrieved November 18, 2015.
  11. ^ Anthropometric Reference Data for Children and Adults 2003–2006
  12. ^ "Federal Laws Prohibiting Job Discrimination: Questions And Answers". EEOC.gov. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. November 21, 2009. Retrieved December 10, 2016.
  13. ^ China Labor Watch (June 1, 2005). "The Kohler Company's Factory in Foshan, China: Dangerous Working Conditions, Long Hours and Little Pay". Cornell Digital Commons. Retrieved January 17, 2018.
  14. ^ "Kohler to pay $20M penalty for California engine emissions". Star Tribune. Retrieved March 5, 2020.
  15. ^ "2015 BUILDER BRAND USE STUDY RESULTS". Builder. Retrieved June 19, 2015.
  16. ^ "KDI Diesel – Kohler Engines". kohlerengines.com. Retrieved December 10, 2016.
  17. ^ Blodgett, Richard (2003). A Sense of Higher Design-The Kohlers of Kohler.
  18. ^ "About Sterling Plumbing". Sterling Plumbing. Kohler Co. Retrieved May 2, 2018.
  19. ^ "About Kohler Engines". Kohler Company. Retrieved November 18, 2015.
  20. ^ "Kohler Creates Joint Venture With Chinese Engine Maker". RERMAG. Retrieved November 18, 2015.
  21. ^ https://www.us.kohler.com/us/Kohler-Introduces-Voice-Command-Technology-Into-The-Bathroom,-Announces-New-Smart-Home-Products-With-%E2%80%98KOHLER-Konnect%E2%80%99/content/CNT131200001.htm
  22. ^ https://customers.microsoft.com/en-us/story/kohler-konnect-azure-iot
  23. ^ "Kohler Co. Residential Review Committee Submission" (PDF). Kohler Company. Retrieved November 24, 2015.
  24. ^ "Building Permits". Village of Kohler. Retrieved November 24, 2015.

External linksEdit