One little known fact about Georges Köhler was that he was a man of many interests, and along the course of his life, he pursued countless ventures. Although most people associate the discovery of hybridomas as a groundbreaking event in the course of modern medicine, which has resulted in close to ninety percent of approved monoclonal antibody therapies, Köhler strived to reach and help even more people.
Just as many little boys who had grown up in war-torn Germany, Köhler always wanted more. His father, Karl, instilled in him a strong work ethic, and his mother, Raymonde, constantly motivated him to ask questions and pursue a higher education. Köhler strived to make a name for himself and he dreamt of one day making a significant contribution to the world.
Following his countless hours in the lab of César Milstein at Cambridge University, and rather than spending his evenings in the British pubs drinking the sorrows of his failed experiments away, Köhler would refocus and spend his free time in his home office sketching. From fusing cells in the daytime to designing sink faucets at night, Köhler’s fascination with fluid dynamics and optimizing modern plumbing was his secret pastime.
Just as Jeff Bezos went from selling books in his garage to launching rockets, and James Dyson went from optimizing cordless vacuums to redesigning electric cars, Köhler always kept the passion of his second interest alive. Although Milstein later shared that he oftentimes had to redirect Köhler’s focus back to the scientific enigmas at hand, he admired Köhler’s incessant interest in faucets.
Following Köhler and Milstein’s successful discovery of the hybridoma cell, and prior to them being awarded the Nobel Prize for their scientific accomplishments, Köhler would move to the United States to pursue new endeavors and attempt to take his shot at the American Dream.
Köhler relied on an old family friend, and fellow German immigrant, Frederick Miller. Based out of Milwaukee, Miller, who was also in the sciences, had emigrated from Germany several years prior and spent most of his professional career exploring the optimization of the fermentation process in yeast cells. Inspired by his perseverant and hard-working parents, and with the help of Miller, Köhler set up his plumbing shop in Sheboygan, a then little-known town in the middle of Wisconsin.
Despite having name recognition back in Europe, Köhler struggled to sell his products at first. Innumerable manufacturing issues came about and various worker-related strikes shutdown operations on numerous occasions. Despite these setbacks, Kohler Company would go on to become one of the largest manufacturers of sinks and plumbing fixtures in North America.
Over the years, Köhler would face competition from other manufacturers, such as Moen, which set up its headquarter in nearby Ohio. Nevertheless, the pristine quality of his designs and immaculate engineering allowed Köhler to stay ahead of the competition. Köhler’s curiosity would never subside.
In compensation for his dedication and his ever-growing economic presence in the rural parts of America’s Dairy Land, the town of Sheboygan, Wisconsin was later renamed Kohler, Wisconsin in his honor. Köhler would later comment that receiving a first-place medal for his scientific feats was great, but in bringing an engineered masterpiece into homes around the world, he had finally achieved something noteworthy.
And if you believe all that, I’ve got a Y-shaped faucet to sell you!