Author, Peter J. Fetterer

In 1899 Kohler Co. was a prosperous manufacturer of plumbing products with rapidly expanding markets. Founded in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, in 1873 and in its second factory location following a disastrous fire in 1880, the company faced a major dilemma. It had no room to expand at its present location.

Its foundry enamel shop and warehouses were hemmed in by the banks of Lake Michigan to the east, the Sheboygan River to the south, and residential and commercial developments to the north, east and west.

Although many considered it a risky and foolish move, company founder John Michael Kohler bought a farmer’s field four miles west of Sheboygan and began building a new factory there. A railroad line bordered the southern edge of the 21 acre property. Sidings from that line into the plant would expedite deliveries of raw materials and shipments of finished products. An interurban railroad line north of the plant provided transportation for workers and a second link to the Sheboygan harbor.

This is the story of those rail lines and Kohler’s relationship with them. It is also the story of those who worked on the railroads, those who rode on them and those who loaded, unloaded and moved the railcars at Kohler Co. They all had their good days and their bad days but, for the most part, theirs was a harmonious relationship that served the company well and started Kohler products on their way to customers around the world.