|Source • Brands||
Price • Origin
444 Highland Drive
Kohler, WI 53044
(Exceeds North American Standard)
This Company In Brief
A privately held, family owned and operated U.S. manufacturer of an enormous line of very good to excellent kitchen and bath fixtures since 1873, Kohler has been a consistent innovator in the plumbing and sanitary-wares industry. Kohler is one of the largest U.S. manufacturers of plumbing and sanitary products, with twelve North American factories. Just under half of Kohler's 33,000 world-wide employees work in the U.S.Faucets are an integral part of the Kohler kitchen and bath line, ranging in style from ho-hum but very reliable to very stylish (and still very reliable). Kohler makes over 200 different faucets, not including variations possible by changing handles and finishes.
One summer day, in 1883, John Michael Kohler, an Austrian emigrant and the proud new owner of the Sheboygan Union Iron & Steel Foundry, took some glass powder and sprinkled it on an iron horse trough from the company's product line that had been heated it to 1,700°. The resulting "enamel" coating was so tough and durable that he featured the horse trough as the centerpiece of his next product catalog, with a small footnote that read: "When furnished with four legs, will serve as a bathing tub."
It was not an overwhelming success as a horse trough, but as a "bathing tub", it became the foundation of an American plumbing empire that is now well into its second century with world-wide scope and annual revenues of over $6 billion U.S.
A privately held, family owned and operated U.S. manufacturer of an enormous line of very good to excellent kitchen and bath fixtures since 1873, Kohler has been a consistent innovator in the plumbing and sanitary-wares industry. In 1911 Kohler introduced the alcove bathtub with integral apron. This is the tub design that dominates American bathrooms today. By the 1920s, Kohler had become the third largest plumbing products company in the U.S. after Delta and Moen.
Kohler is still one of the largest U.S. manufacturers of plumbing and sanitary products, with twelve North American factories. Just under half of Kohler's 33,000 world-wide employees work in the U.S. and Canada. The enterprise is actually a related group of companies that sells bath and kitchen products, furniture, tile, fabrics, generators, even chocolates, and own resort hotels and golf courses, including the original St. Andrews course in Scotland.
Faucets are an integral part of the Kohler kitchen and bath line, ranging in style from ho-hum but very reliable to very, very stylish (and still very reliable). Kohler makes over 200 different faucets, not including variations possible by changing handles and finishes. (We started counting Kohler faucet variations one day, but gave it up as a bad idea when we reached 340. The actual number is probably much higher).
Unlike its major competitor, — a company that has been disected, dismembered and reconstituted as an entirely new company under Japanese ownership — Kohler is much the same company it was in 1873 — although it has gone through a few name changes since the Sheboygan days. It is still owned and managed by the Kohler family, and still very much an American company that manufactures products for distribution world-wide. Herbet Kohler, Jr., the company's visionary CEO since 1972 stepped down on June 1, 2015 and was succeeded by his son, K. David Kohler, the fourth Kohler to head the company.
Most Kohler faucets sold in the U.S. are made in the U.S. at Kohler's faucet plant in Sheridan, Arkansas. The parts and components that go into Kohler faucets were once made mostly in the U.S., but that has not been true for a number of years. Today they are manufactured in other countries, primarily China and India. In the past 24 months, Kohler has imported faucet parts from Nanchang Kohler Co., Ltd. and Shanghai Kohler Electronic Ltd., both, as you might have surmised, Kohler subsidiaries in China. Kohler has reportedly invested over $70 million acquiring and updating Chinese factories to service the giant Chinese market for upscale faucets, but also to provide faucets and faucet components to other parts of the world. Kohler also buys components from Sunspring Metal Corporation of Taiwan and China for its relatively new faucet assembly operation in Monterrey, Mexico operated by Kohler Sanimex, S. de R.L. C.V..
The transition to overseas manufacturing has not been without problems for Kohler which has experienced repeated labor unrest since its founding. A 1934 a labor strike at Kohler's Wisconsin plants turned violent, resulting in two dead and 43 injured in clashes between Kohler strikers and "special deputies" hired by the company to protect the plant. The National Guard was called in to restore order. A government investigation after the strike was unable to identify the individuals responsible for the gun violence, attributing it to "several ruthless persons."
A 1954 strike lasted six years (the longest major strike in U.S. history) until the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Kohler has refused to bargain in good faith and ordered reinstatement of 1,700 union workers and payment of $4.5 million U.S. to the striking workers in back pay and pension benefitsNote 1. A third strike in 1983 lasted just a few weeks. In 2015 the company was struck a fourth time, this time for 31 days, the principal issue being the outsourcing of manufacturing to Kohler's Mexican factory.
At least some of Kohler's ceramic faucet cartridges are purchased from Anton Tränkle, GmbH & Co. KG, a German company that makes superior ceramic cartridges, but only single function, stem cartridges for two-handle faucets. These are rapidly being replaced by Kohler's proprietary UltraGlide® cartridges. Kohler calls these the "next generation of faucet technology" — and they are.
One of the disks is coated with what is probably diamond-like carbon, a material nearly as hard a diamonds (hence the "diamond-like" in the name), and very slick for easy operation without any lubricant between the discs. Advanced engineering and precise manufacturing keeps water away from the metal parts of the cartridge, a feature that Kohler calls Dry Stem Technology. This design eliminates mineral buildup and leaking around stem seals — the weak point in most cartridges. The cartridge has been tested through four million off/on cycles — eight times the industry standard.
For mixer cartridges used in single handle faucets, Kohler uses cartridges from Hydroplast S R L, and Italian manufacturer of good to excellent ceramic cartridges also used in faucets made by faucets.
Some of Kohler's faucets are entirely foreign made and imported as finished units.
• Kohler Sanimex, S. de R.L. C.V. in Monterrey, Mexico was established by Kohler in 1987Note 2 as a porcelain sanitary wares factory. It has recently begun assembling Kohler faucets from Chinese-made components for the North American market.
• Kohler India Corporation Pvt Ltd. manufactures faucets in India primarily for the South Asian market. But, Kohler announced in 2015 its plan to expand this enterprise into an export hub to supply faucets and other sanitary ware to the U.S., Canada and China. We have not seen any of these faucets in the U.S. as of the date of this report. (But, if you have, please contact us with the information.)
• Nanchang Kohler Co., Ltd specializes in manufacturing high quality faucets using the latest technologies in a state-of-the-art facility. Its faucets are sold mostly in China, where Kohler is a major presence, but also in the U.S., Canada, France, India and many parts of the rest of Asia.
• Guangzhou Seagull Kitchen and Bath products Co., Ltd. makes four Katun faucets for Kohler. Established by the Peoples Republic of China as a state-owned enterprise in 1958 at the beginning of the Great Leap Forward and long before the opening of mainland China to the West. It is one of the oldest of the Chinese faucet manufacturers. It manufactures faucets or faucet components for faucets, among others.If buying American is important to you, read the box to confirm a faucet's country of origin.
Kohler, wisely, has avoided the very low end of the faucet business that requires a lot of plastic and zinc parts. It is actively pursuing the high end bath ware market, and cleverly too, by providing architects and designers with CAD images that make it easy to specify Kohler products.
Be aware, however, that the Kohler products sold in some home centers such as Menards, Lowes and The Home Depot may not be Kohler's regular product line. They are private models made just for the home centers and may not be of the best Kohler quality. (See The Model Game for more information.) A plumbing supply house is your best option for main-line Kohler products.
If the incredible variety of the Kohler faucet collection is not enough for you, or you absolutely must have a designer's name attached to your faucet, then try Kohler's upscale collection of faucets, sinks, bathtubs, showers, bath furniture and accessories.
In 2015 Kohler Co. was recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency with a Watersense® Sustained Excellence Award for the third year in a row. Kohler is the only three-time winner of the award.
Domestic faucets comparable to Kohler include
Comparable imported faucets include
Kohler is one of the best faucets made. It's quality does not seem to have suffered at all from moving most parts and component manufacturing offshore — primarily because most of the foreign manufacturers are owned by Kohler. The company operates one of the best warranty and customer support operations in the world with a replacement parts system that seems to have the necessary parts for any Kohler faucet ever made. It would be very hard to go wrong buying a Kohler faucet.
If you have had an experience with a Kohler faucet, — good, bad or indifferent — that you would like to share, please let us know. And, don't forget to comment, below.
1. Josh Lintereur, "Kohler's past marked by bitter labor fights", Sheboygan Press Media, Undated.
2. Chris Kraul, "Kohler Building Big Fixtures Plant in Mexico : Manufacturing: The highly automated facility will be near Monterrey. It may cause friction during upcoming U.S. union contract talks", Los Angeles Times, June 26, 1990.