Kohler Co. was initially established in 1873.
John Michael Kohler and Charles Silberzahn purchased the Sheboygan Union Iron and Steel Foundry from Kohler’s employer and father-in-law. They incorporated their new company as Kohler & Silberzahn. In 1887 the company incorporated as the Kohler Co.
Entering the Engine Market.
Kohler became inspired by the growth of electrical appliances, but realized the limitations of electrical distribution. So, his company began developing small electric generators. In 1920, the company introduced its first generator model, the Automatic Power and Light – Model A, which provided 1,500 watts of 110-volt DC power from a generator driven by a four cylinder gasoline engine. This new model “marked a significant improvement over existing generators, which merely charged batteries at 32 volts and weren’t as portable.”
The initial generators were popular with maritime and railroad companies, as well as farm owners. The company even designed models for the military.
In the 1950s, Kohler gasoline powered generators found a market in Thailand and Vietnam. In fact, nearly every air-cooled engine in South East Asia was manufactured by the company and sold through a distributor in Hong Kong. They were used to power boats, pump water on rice paddies, and drive air compressors.
The company’s success in Asia continued throughout the 1960s, but it also gained momentum in the United States. Kohler engines were being installed in lawnmowers, garden tractors, construction equipment, and snowmobiles.
Also, a number of American construction equipment manufacturers, including International Harvester, John Deere, Wheel-Horse, Jacobsen, and Bombardier, began incorporating Kohler engines into their models. By 1963, Kohler was “one of the leading small engine parts suppliers in the industry.”
In order to keep pace with the growing demand, Kohler established new manufacturing facilities in Mexico City, Mexico and Toronto, Canada.
Decades of Development.
Kohler engine development continued through the 1990s. The company received an award from the National Society of Professional Engineers in 1998 for its Overhead Cam (OHC) 18 horsepower engine. It was “lauded as the best new product” of the thousands released by all major manufacturers.
In 2002, Kohler’s Courage engine entered the market with features including a crankcase for leak-proof operation, dual camshaft, ported powering intake, and a cross-flow cylinder head.
The Company Today.
Kohler Engines is a subsidiary of the larger Kohler Co., which participates in a wide variety of markets including plumbing, kitchen and bath appliances, furniture and accessories, cabinetry and tile, as well as resort, recreation, and real estate.
Today, the company has 31,000 employees worldwide. Corporate headquarters are located in Kohler, Wisconsin, which is a village in Sheboygan County, Wisconsin. Kohler’s chairman, CEO, and president is Herbert Kohler, Jr.