Of tubs and toil: Kohler workers in an empire of hygiene, 1920-2000

Kathryn J. Oberdeck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper examines contests over the intimate and global geographies of domestic hygiene advanced by the Kohler Company, a plumbing-ware manufacturer that promoted "American" standards living in its welfare-capitalist industrial village of Kohler, Wisconsin. Drawing from the approaches of labor history, cultural history, and critical geography, it demonstrates the value of combining these methodologies. The perspectives of Kohler workers on "American" living standards, it reveals, complicate cultural histories that cast such workers as uncritical audiences for imperializing claims about the superiority of American sanitation. The paper argues that workers who struggled to unionize the Kohler plant challenged company definitions of "American" standards and generated alternative, laborite maps of domestic hygiene and the labor associated with it among local immigrant workers and laborers elsewhere in the world. It considers the legacy of those maps in the context of the companys changing global networks of production and consumption.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)447-483
Number of pages37
JournalInternational Review of Social History
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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