More than 130 years ago, 29-year-old John Michael Kohler took a cast-iron water trough, added feet and enameled it, creating a bathtub. According to Kohler Co. lore, he sold it to a local farmer for one cow and 14 chickens.
This seemingly simple innovation launched the KOHLER brand as a household name – for kitchen & bath, power, interiors and golf & resort destinations.
Yet it’s a series of thoughtful decisions nearly a century ago that truly set the stage for Destination Kohler.
When Kohler Co. began building its new factory in the area now known as the Village of Kohler, Wisconsin, immigrants from Austria, Holland, Germany, Russia, and other locations arrived looking for work. The challenge, it soon realized, was helping those workers find housing in what had previously been 21 acres of farmland.
Believing "A worker deserves not only wages, but roses as well,” Walter J. Kohler – son of John Michael Kohler and second president of Kohler Co. – undertook an ambitious project to house immigrants for just $27.50 a month, including a private room, laundry service and three meals per day. The project, a Tudor-style building he named The American Club, opened its doors to single immigrant workers in 1918. Along with a pub, bowling alley and barbershop, The American Club offered lessons in American citizenship and the English language.
Surrounding The American Club, the newly incorporated Village of Kohler was part of a 50-year master plan created with the Olmsted Brothers, designers of New York’s Central Park. One of the first planned communities in America, it brought community members together with everything from bowling leagues to picnics at Ravine Park and concerts by John Phillip Sousa.
As time passed and the Kohler Co. grew, so did the needs of workers, many of whom now had families and their own homes – often built by the company and sold to workers at cost. Eventually, The American Club outlived its original purpose and was in need of major repairs. Herbert V. Kohler Jr., current president of Kohler Co., conceived the idea of an elegant village inn. He hired three consultants, all of whom said the idea would never work. Undeterred, he trusted his instinct and launched a renovation. When The American Club was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, there was no turning back.
In 1981, The American Club was reborn as a world-class destination, preserving the history of yesteryear while offering the gracious hospitality and single level of quality that remains a signature of Kohler to this day. The resort now includes four award-winning Championship golf courses at Whistling Straits® and Blackwolf Run®, proud host of the 2004, 2010 and 2015 PGA Championships; the 2007 US Senior Open; the 2020 Ryder Cup Matches; the Andersen Consulting World Golf Championships in 1995, 1996 and 1997; and the U.S. Women’s Open in 1998 and 2012. It’s also home to nine distinctive restaurants, boutique shops and Kohler Waters Spa – one of only 41 spas in the world to claim Forbes Five Star distinction.
Nearby, River Wildlife, a distinguished wilderness preserve and dining club, encompasses more than 800 acres of unspoiled land, 7 miles of the meandering Sheboygan River and more than 30 miles of scenic woodland trails. Like everything at KOHLER, River Wildlife exemplifies Kohler Co.’s commitment to caring for the environment and seeking innovative ways to protect our resources.
And halfway across the globe, The Old Course Hotel – bordering the renowned 17th Road Hole of the Old Course at St Andrews – continues the story of Kohler hospitality and gracious living.
The Kohler Co. and the Village of Kohler have come a long way from that original water trough-turned bathtub. Yet one thing has remained constant: the commitment to a single level of quality that brings charm, good taste and generosity of spirit to all.