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Kohler Co. was co-founded in 1873 by Austrian immigrant John Michael Kohler and Charles Silberzahn with the purchase of the Sheboygan Union Iron and Steel Foundry from Kohler's father-in-law, Jacob Vollrath, for $5000. Early products included cast iron and steel farm implements, castings for furniture factories, and ornamental iron pieces including cemetery crosses and settees. A breakthrough came in 1883 when John Michael applied enamel to a cast-iron horse trough to create the company's first bathtub. The company has been primarily in the plumbing business ever since, and is known for its plumbing fixtures.
In the early 20th century, Kohler made drinking fountains with a "bubbling valve", from which water shot vertically. Eventually the entire fountain came to be known as a "bubbler" in the area in which Kohler products were sold. The term bubbler is still used in most of Wisconsin and some other areas of the United States.
In 1934 and 1954, Kohler Strikes took place. On November 15, 2015, workers voted for the 2015 Kohler Strike, making it the fourth strike in the company's history; the third took place in 1983 and only lasted a few weeks.