The History of Kohler Engines

Kohler has come a long way since its first engine was designed and sold during the 1920s to serve rural markets; today Kohler offers a wide variety of quality engines for many different commercial and industrial uses, including lawnmowers, heavy duty concrete saws, industrial welding equipment, generators and pressure washers.

The company’s first engines were a generator set consisting of 1500 watt engines which delivered a 110-volt DC current. During the late 1930s, the company introduced their range of diesel engines which featured liquid cooling, as well as a choice of the number of cylinders and different speed options. Kohler engines also turned up in some unlikely places – Admiral Richard Byrd took several Kohler generators with him on his second expedition to the South Pole in 1933, even naming a mountain range after the company.

In 1948, the company opened a factory dedicated to the manufacture of small engines and began to develop a range of engines designed specifically for industrial use. The 1950s were an important decade for Kohler – the company introduced a single cylinder cast iron air-cooled engine, known as the K90, in 1951. Kohler introduced more models in its K series of engines throughout the 1950s, culminating in its interchangeable engines which offered the user the convenience and flexibility of a common mounting foot pattern and crank height.

Kohler also enjoyed a huge success in exporting its products overseas in the 1950s, particularly in Vietnam and Thailand. The company’s small engines were used to power air compressors and small boats and to help irrigate the area’s many rice fields by pumping water. In fact, Kohler was so successful in exporting to this part of the world, that at one point, almost all the air-cooled engines being used in Southeast Asia were manufactured by Kohler.

The 1960s were also a time of growth and innovation for Kohler. In 1960, the company opened a brand new Engine and Electric Plant; and also built new production facilities in Canada and Mexico. In 1965, Kohler introduced Automatic Compression Release (ARC), which featured more effortless recoil starts; and in 1966, Kohler proudly announced that engine number 1,000,000 had just rolled off the production line.

During the 1980s, Kohler again introduced innovative and exciting improvements to their engines, including a newly designed connecting rod, full-pressure lubrication and a crankshaft design which featured steel-backed sleeve bearings at both ends. Throughout the 1960s, Kohler introduced further innovations, including improved air filtration and electronic ignition. In 1986, the company introduced its line of Command engines, which featured hydraulic valve lifters and OHV design.

Kohler continued to offer exciting and innovative products throughout the 1990s – in 1991, they targeted the commercial and consumer lawn and garden market with a line of vertical shaft twin cylinder engines. In 1995, Kohler developed and marketed the first overhead cam engines (OHC) in the industry; and in 1998 received a well-deserved award for its OHC 18 HP engine. In 1999, the first liquid cooled Aegis engine was introduced; it was also the first to offer the now standard 3 year warranty.

Throughout the 21st century, Kohler has continued to be an industry leader, and offer new and innovative products, many with the added advantage of helping to protect the environment. In late 2008, Kohler announced that over the next two years, all of its Aegis liquid-cooled and Command Pro engines will utilize electronic fuel injection, meaning lower fuel emissions as well as improved performance. And Kohler has also been playing its part in the war effort in Iraq by powering machines used to remove potentially lethal debris from roadsides.

Kohler has managed to be an industry leader for so long by offering not only a range of quality products for different uses, but by continually improving the features and performance of their engines. Kohler products are also well known for their longevity, reliability and overall low maintenance. You may never need to order a spare part for your Kohler engine, but if you do, the company also prides itself on its excellent customer service.

~Ben Anton, 2009

Repower - History of Kohler Engines