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The Vollrath Company
IndustryManufacturing, Foodservice
Founder(s)Jacob Vollrath
HeadquartersSheboygan, Wisconsin, USA
Area servedUSA, Mexico, Canada, South America, Europe, Asia
Key peoplePaul Bartelt, Terry Kohler
ProductsStainless and Aluminum Foodservice Small-wares and Equipment
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The Vollrath Company
IndustryManufacturing, Foodservice
Founder(s)Jacob Vollrath
HeadquartersSheboygan, Wisconsin, USA
Area servedUSA, Mexico, Canada, South America, Europe, Asia
Key peoplePaul Bartelt, Terry Kohler
ProductsStainless and Aluminum Foodservice Small-wares and Equipment

The Vollrath Company manufactures stainless steel and aluminum small-wares and equipment, deep draw stainless steel, for commercial foodservice operations including restaurants, hotels/lodging, primary and secondary education, health care, business and institutions, catering, military, grocery and convenience stores, casinos, cruise ships, stadiums and arenas.



Vollrath specializes in the manufacturing of equipment and supplies for the commercial foodservice industry. Their equipment offering includes mixers, slicers, induction ranges, countertop griddles and charbroilers, warmers, merchandisers, mobile serving units, merchandising carts and kiosks. Their supply offering (also known as smallwares) includes steam table pans, cookware, kitchen utensils, tabletop accessories, and buffet serving ware. Vollrath operates six manufacturing plants with locations in Wisconsin, New York and China and has been a leader in commercial induction cooktop technology. Vollrath is a global company with sales, service and warehouse support in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe, and China. They also have a large OEM arm, which produces custom stainless steel pieces for various applications. Vollrath offers food preparation, cooking and serving products. They sell their products through two-tier distribution.

The Vollrath Company was started in 1874 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin by Jacob J. Vollrath. Jacob sold his products from a cart and quickly expanded his business. Vollrath devoted its production facilities to military products during the wars and produced a Polio-Pak during the polio epidemic. It was among the first manufacturing companies in America to integrate computer technology. Today, the company is family owned with Terry J. Kohler, the great-great grandson of Jacob Vollrath, serving on the company’s board of directors.

Start up

Jacob Vollrath began building farm implements, steam engines, cast iron ranges and cooking utensils in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. He manufactured porcelain enameled pots, pans, plates, cups and other kitchenware by coating cast iron with ceramic glaze. In 1874 he constructed a plant on 6th Street and Michigan Avenue in Sheboygan to do general foundry work while his son Andrew was in Germany learning porcelain enamelling. The Sheboygan Cast Steel Company produced railroad frogs (a device that allowed the wheels of a train on one set of tracks to cross over intersecting tracks) and small cast parts for the furniture industry. The company also branched out into the manufacture of cooking ranges and agricultural implements.

In 1876 Andrew returned from Germany and production of enameled ware began. After making a few enameled cast iron utensils, Jacob went from one community to the next with a cart selling his limited stock. By 1881 Jacob employed 40 men and grossed $50,000 per year. The company flourished and was incorporated in 1884 under the name of Jacob J. Vollrath Manufacturing Company.

By 1886, Jacob’s business had expanded so much that his facility covered an entire block. He purchased 30 acres (120,000 m2) of land along Lake Michigan for a home and a park. The 16-acre (65,000 m2) which became Vollrath Park was subsequently donated to the city by his heirs in 1917. In 1887, the Vollrath facility was one of the largest plants in the country devoted to enameled ware.

Jacob’s second son, Carl, originated and patented “Speckled” enamel in 1889, which became quite commonly used. Sheet steel stamped ware was added to the product line in 1892, which increased the range of items considerably. A catalog from that era shows the addition of coffee boilers, dippers, ladles, cake and pie pans, bowls and cups. Already manufacturing enameled cast iron sinks, stove reservoirs, refrigerator tanks, and water cooler tanks, Vollrath added bathtubs to the product line in 1895, though they never made it into a catalog. At the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 Vollrath garnered the Grand Prize for enameled iron ware. Jacob died in May 1898, passing the company on to his children.

Growth and the next generation

In 1900 the company discontinued the manufacture of plumbing goods in order to devote its energies entirely to the cooking utensil field. The management at that time believed that concentration on one product would make possible the manufacturing of a better product. The company continued to grow, opening the first branch office in Chicago in 1900. A New York branch was later built around 1903, and a San Francisco office was built around 1909. In 1904 Vollrath once again earned top honors for “Excellence in the Production of Colored and Plain, Stamped Steel and Cast Iron Enameled Wares”, this time at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis.

In February 1908, the need for a shorter company name was realized and a new corporation, the Vollrath Company, was organized. In order to ensure that Vollrath enameled ware maintained its high quality, a new plant was designed. In 1910 construction of the new facility began at 18th and Michigan Ave in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, which is still the current site of the corporate offices and stainless steel manufacturing plant. A complete unit for the economical handling of the product was built, where each department would be housed in surroundings designed for that particular process. Expansion continued at the Vollrath facility during the late 1900s and throughout the 1920s. In 1918 new additions were added to the south end of the finishing and enameling shops. In 1919 the office building and gate lodge (known at that time as the “watchman’s house) were constructed; in 1920 the power house was built. In 1922 the carton shed was added on to the building that was known as hay storage and the machine shop and annealing room were added in 1923.

In 1919 steam table pans and equipment were first featured in the Vollrath catalog. The pans were sold only to bona fide steam table manufacturers and were produced in sixteen sizes. The heaviest, a meat panel, weighing in at a hefty 35 pounds, featured the meat platter as an integral part of the pan. Vollrath Ware was approved by the Good Housekeeping Institute, and earned the distinction of being a “Star Product” in 1919.

In 1928, Vollrath was still expanding physically and increasing the product range. It made another addition to its warehouse and there were over 800 items in the complete product line catalog. Jean C. Vollrath became president of the Vollrath Company in 1932 after the death of his father. The Board Chairman was Walter J. Kohler, Sr., Jacob’s grandson who served as governor of Wisconsin from 1929 to 1931.

The Great Depression and World War II

During the years of the Great Depression and under the guidance of President J.C. Vollrath, the company continued its entrepreneurial practices. By the late 1930s Vollrath had begun replacing some enamelware with stainless steel. Vollrath’s field sales force numbered nineteen in 1938.

With war imminent, Vollrath gradually converted to war production in late 1941, increasing the government supplies monthly until August 1, 1942. At that time Vollrath was working 100% on defense work, which continued throughout the war. By September 1943 Vollrath’s price list of porcelain enamelware permitted for civilian use was strictly limited to a few dozen necessary items such as coffee pots, boilers, and percolators, vegetable insets, bain maries, double boilers, dish pans, ladles, pails, hotel pans, sauce pans, and stock pots for kitchen use.

On June 28, 1945 Vollrath was awarded the Army-Navy “E” Flag for Vollrath’s record in the production of materials needed in the war effort. Vollrath produced more than 12 million canteens during the war, along with many other products for military use, such as mess trays, meat cans, irrigators, and basins. Lapel pins were given to 764 Vollrath employees in recognition of this accomplishment.

The polio epidemic

When the polio epidemic of the late 1940s and early 1950s struck, Vollrath developed the Polio-Pak Heater. Selling for $275, this 37” high stainless steel electrical unit could produce 15 double-thick steam heated woolen packs to administer to patients afflicted with the crippling and often deadly disease. In addition to treating polio victims, the Polio-Pak Heater could also be used for treatment of infections, vascular and muscular congestion, and any physical therapy that required either hot moist or hot dry packs. Vollrath also developed a 20½” high portable size Polio-Pak Heater for visiting nurses to use in patient’s home.

Walter J. Kohler, Jr.

Walter J. Kohler, Jr., Jacob’s great-grandson, joined the Vollrath Company Board of Directors in 1939 upon his father’s death, and became the Vollrath Company’s fifth president in 1947 after acquiring a controlling interest in the firm, succeeding his uncle Jean C. Vollrath. After joining the Vollrath Company, Walter became a delegate-at-large to the Republican National Convention. He had some political experience as a young man, having assisted his father, Walter J. Kohler, Sr., in his successful Wisconsin gubernatorial campaign in the late 1920s. Walter J. Kohler, Jr. became one of the very few three-term governors in the state’s history. His terms as governor of Wisconsin ran from 1951 through 1957, and he was heavily involved with the presidential campaign of Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1952 election.[1]

Product expansion

Expansion, acquisition, relocation and new product development became Vollrath’s credo. In April 1968 the newly-erected 96,000-square-foot (8,900 m2) fabrication building was dedicated during an open house. The 400 by 240-foot (73 m) building was constructed for production of the mobile equipment line and the new line of laboratory animal housing units for primates, dogs, cats, rabbits and rodents. It has since been converted into the shipping center for the company, better utilizing its open high ceiling construction for the efficient distribution of the over 3,000 separate products in finished goods inventory. In 1970 Vollrath began molding medical plastics in Sheboygan. The plastic operation was subsequently moved to Gallaway, Tennessee in 1975. In early 1974, Vollrath leased a property in Clarksville, Tennessee, moving the cookware finishing from Sheboygan to that location. Later that same year Vollrath also purchased the hollowware and related assets of the Admiral Craft Corporation of New York. The newly acquired products were dubbed Century Ware by Vollrath, to commemorate Vollrath’s 100th year in business.

Vollrath entered the foodservice plastic marketplace in 1976 with the purchase of the Bolta line of about 800 different plastic containers, trays, racks and other foodservice items from the chemical and plastics division of the General Tire and Rubber Company. Construction of a 24,000-square-foot (2,200 m2) addition to the south end of the original office building was begun in June, 1977.

Movement into the new era

In the 1980s, the Vollrath Company acquired and divested itself of several ventures. It consolidated the house wares and direct sales divisions to form a new consumer products division in 1980, and dissolved it at the end of 1984.

By 1981 Vollrath purchased the business of Dyna International Corp. from Peters & Company of Boston, Massachusetts. Vollrath eventually sold the line of self-leveling dispensers, dish and utility carts in 1986 to Servolift of Boston. In 1982 Vollrath sold its sink line to Keyline Sales of Elkhart, Indiana. That same year Vollrath constructed an addition to the foundry for investment casting. That portion of the foundry business was in operation until 1985.

In April 1983 the Vollrath Company decentralized. Nine divisions were formed: food service, management systems, refrigeration, information network, management services, management consulting and education, consumer products, health care and international. Each division functioned under the corporate umbrella but had its own president. In 1984 Vollrath installed a new IBM 3038-EX computer. The computer, its generator and its cooling system weighed more than six tons. The $1.6 million electronic equipment was lifted by crane to the second floor computer room. It was the first of the new IBM EX series to be installed in Wisconsin, and the fourth “generation” of IBM computer equipment ordered by Vollrath, considered to be a pioneer in the extensive use of such equipment in business and service. Vollrath completed decentralization in January 1989.

Terry J. Kohler

Terry Jodok Kohler is the third generation of Kohlers to serve at Vollrath, joining the firm in 1962 after more than eight years in the United States Air Force and at MIT. He is the great-great grandson of Jacob J. Vollrath. A graduate of MIT, his undergraduate degree was in mechanical engineering and industrial management, with an MBA in Industrial Management from the MIT Sloan School of Management. He has served as president, CEO, and chairman of the board. His thesis and research were in the area of business application of large scale digital computers in smaller companies. Upon joining Vollrath, Terry pushed the integration of computers into manufacturing, installing the first computer (an IMB 1440 system) in 1964, thereby launching Vollrath to the forefront of the industry in control of inventories, production management, and manufacturing scheduling. He was responsible for the installation of the series of IBM computers, and allowed the company to serve as “guinea pig” for computer development. He also orchestrated the decentralization of the company in 1983 and negotiated the purchase of North Sails in 1984.

Modern acquisitions

In late 1989, the Vollrath Company purchased the Leyse commercial aluminum cookware line from General Housewares Corporation, Stamford, Connecticut. Purchase of the Kewaunee, Wisconsin manufacturing facility gave Vollrath greater control in supplying commercial aluminum cookware rather than relying on a foreign manufacturer to produce the goods. On December 15, 1992 Vollrath reached the landmark position of $100 million in sales for that year. The accomplishment was celebrated with a company-wide brat fry.

In May 1994 Vollrath acquired a line of food warmers and accessories with the purchase of Idea/Medalie Division, Rogers, Minnesota. Production of the warmers was moved to Vollrath’s Kewaunee, Wisconsin plant.

On September 30, 1996 the Vollrath Company, Inc. entered into a restructuring agreement and became the Vollrath Company, L.L.C. Vollrath has purchased Luitink Manufacturing Co. of Menomonee Falls, and Oconomowoc, Wisconsin in May 1999 to give the company new flexibility for precision created smallwares. In 2004 Vollrath acquired Corsair Display Systems in Canandaigua, New York, expanding their equipment capabilities and allowing for the introduction of mobile carts to the Vollrath catalog and expanding their customizing capabilities. In 2009, Vollrath acquired three companies:


Paul Bartelt recently succeeded Tom Belot as President and Chief Executive Officerin September 2009.[4]


  1. ^ Distinguished Service: The Life of Wisconsin Governor Walter J. Kohler, Jr. by Thomas C. Reeves
  2. ^ "Vollrath Co. buys Anvil America". The Business Journal (American City Business Journals). April 8, 2009. http://milwaukee.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/stories/2009/04/06/daily36.html. Retrieved March 24, 2011. 
  3. ^ "Vollrath buys Manitowoc Co. division". The Business Journal (American City Business Journals). December 23, 2009. http://milwaukee.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/stories/2009/12/21/daily30.html. Retrieved March 24, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Vollrath president, CEO Belot retiring". The Business Journal (American City Business Journals). September 1, 2009. http://milwaukee.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/stories/2009/08/31/daily37.html?q=the%20vollrath%20company. Retrieved March 24, 2011. 

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