Saturday, September 30, 2006

History at the Kohler Design Center

The Design Center had a floor dedicated to the history of the Kohler Company. Of course the first thing Grandma did was go look to see if there was a picture or mention of Grandpa. The center had a DVD that played over and over about the history of the company, about 25 minutes. I learned that a son of the founder, Walter Kohler, built the American Club to house immigrants, which had a school where they could learn English. His father, John Michael Kohler, was an immigrant from Austria, and set up shop with his father-in-law. After his first wife died he married her little sister. Walter also became a governor of Wisconsin. What a good man, remembered his roots, took care of his workers.

Jump to Walter's grandson who was in charge in 1956. That's when my grandpa worked there and the workers went on strike. Somehow the video and the displays skipped over any mention of those years. I did not even see the word 'strike'. Interesting.


Interesting too that the art found there was this WPA style celebrating workers:


Walter set up a fifty year plan for the company and the Village of Kohler. He went to Europe to examine 'garden cities' and designed Kohler to include natural elements and to use nature to buffer the residential area from the factory. He said people should not only receive wages, they should receive roses. He clearly cared.

But by the time it got to his great grandson, Herbie Kohler Jr, the next 50 year plan included elite golf resorts. The American Club became an exclusive hotel. What a change. It made me wonder if it is inevitable, this familial decline.

What happened in that family that they lost the roots of their founder, the compassion of his son? I might not jump to that conclusion, but then why not show the bad with the good, the strike along with the philanthropy? My mom did say Herbie Kohler Jr does some philanthropic things for the community.

Originally an ironworks, Kohler made gas line fittings among other things:


Kohler was always innovative in its designs. First to bring color to its metal that could match porcelain dishes:

IMG_0255 This one is for you, Steve:


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