The History of Kohler Co.

Four generations strong, Kohler is today one of America’s oldest and most successful privately-held companies. This legacy has been ensured by their innovative approach to making high-quality products that people know they can count on. 

Whether you’re replacing an accessory, remodeling your bathroom, or outfitting a new bathroom, Kohler products should be the first place you look for beauty, quality, and a lifetime guarantee. At Home Forever Baths, we are the premier dealer of fine Kohler products in Northern Illinois.

Humble Beginnings

Kohler’s story begins with young John Michael Kohler, an Austrian immigrant who settled in Wisconsin on the coast of Lake Michigan. Gifted an interest in a small foundry and machine shop by his father-in-law in 1873, Kohler became an expert metal worker. Having specialized in farm equipment, he innovated the enamel-coated tub originally as a combination horse trough and hog scalder some 18 years after setting to work. 

By heating the metal tub to 1700 degrees Fahrenheit and sprinkling it with enamel powder, he discovered he could create a nearly impermeable surface. While the tub was marketed as a hog scalder, he noted in his single-page catalog that, “When furnished with four legs [it] will serve as a bathtub.”

Kohler’s first tub was traded to a local farmer in exchange for one cow and 14 chickens. While most of these tubs were sold as farm equipment, the innovation eventually helped to change the plumbing business forever, and along with it, Kohler grew into the quality brand we know today.

Growth Steeped in Tradition

Kohler’s concerns today extend not only to kitchen and bath products, but to power, interiors, and hospitality. Over the last 20 years of the 20th century, Kohler added spas, hotels, and golf courses to its holdings. Kohler’s commitment to beauty and quality extends to every industry it touches, making its slogan—“The Bold Look of Kohler”—appropriate wherever it makes its mark.

Grandson of John Michael Kohler, Herbert Kohler Jr. became Vice President of Operations upon his father’s death in 1968. Four years later he was elected CEO and chairman of the board, and served as CEO until 2015 when his own son David took over. He still sits as executive chairman. His ability to see the forest for the trees and take the right risks helped spearhead the Kohler company to the top of the industry.

Herb Jr. says of his approach to Kohler, “I think I have as great an appreciation and skill for the aesthetic as I do for the analysis. It is sort of a right-brain, left-brain combination. Much of our business is fashion-oriented, and the solutions I come up with are creative, not the expected. Sometimes they work, and sometimes not…”

It seems they worked more often than not, as Kohler grew under Herb Jr.’s leadership from a $300 million company to a $6 billion one. Kohler’s long history with the technology related to plumbing equipment has allowed them to maintain such a high level of quality throughout many phases of innovation in the industry, both functional and aesthetic, which is why they are still the top choice for bathroom and kitchen products in America.

Community Care

Kohler has a long history of giving back to their community. As far back as 1911, Kohler became one of the first companies in America to provide workers’ compensation. In 1918, Walter Kohler established the Quarter Century Club and the American Club, an inn to provide temporary housing to single, male immigrants in need of a home while they worked at the Kohler factory to establish themselves. In 1938, the Kohler Credit Union began providing much-needed financial services to Kohler employees.

As the need for these properties became obviated, in 1981 Herb Kohler Jr. restored the grounds and introduced the company’s first golf course, which led to the development of others around the world.

Today, Kohler employs some 30,000 people, and encourages their involvement in their communities as the Kohler company itself has done. Laura Kohler says the Kohler company gives their employees the opportunity to make a difference at work and in the world, “…whether it is pushing for sustainability and clean environment practices, driving food bank contributions, doing volunteer activities, or creating their own fundraising initiatives for local organisations.”

Home Forever Baths and Kohler

If you’re remodeling the bathroom in your Northern Illinois home, call Home Forever Baths today for a free consultation. We offer fine Kohler products on every job, and we add a service guarantee to Kohler’s lifetime product guarantee. You can’t go wrong with Kohler, and you can’t go wrong with Home Forever Baths!

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