Kohler Company

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Kohler Company
Type Private
Industry Manufacturing, Hospitality
Founded 1873
Founder(s) John Michael Kohler
Headquarters Kohler, Wisconsin1, United States
Products toilets, urinals, sinks, bathtubs, furniture, faucets, engines, home generators, industrial generators, tile
Website www.kohler.com
Company headquarters in Kohler, Wisconsin
Kohler Design Center
Entrance to The American Club

The Kohler Company, founded in 1873, is a 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. Kohler also owns various hospitality establishments in the United States and Scotland.

History

Kohler was founded in 1873 by Austrian immigrant John Michael Kohler with the purchase of the Sheboygan Union Iron and Steel Foundry. 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.

Corporate management

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 share 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.2

Products

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

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.34

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 1920.5

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's UK subsidiary is the Cheltenham-based Kohler Mira Ltd, best known for manufacturing Mira Showers.

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

Other holdings

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.

Kohler also owns the Old Course Hotel at St. Andrews in Scotland. The 5 Red Star golf resort is situated on the famed "Road Hole" fairway of the 17th green.

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.

Discriminatory Hiring Practices

In 1999, a court case was brought by the U.S. Labor Department against the Kohler Company due to hiring practices that were found to be discriminatory to women.6 The company had an informal height requirement of 5'4" for women, which is the average adult female height in the United States.7 Because of its contracts with the federal government, the Kohler Company was prohibited from such discriminatory hiring practices.8 The company agreed as part of the settlement 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."6

References

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