Company History

EARLY YEARS

The history begins with George Koch, the founder of George Koch Sons, Inc. George was born the fourth son of five to Phillip and Anna Margaretha Koch of Albig, Germany. The Koch family set sail from their German home to come to America in 1843. Their plan was to reunite with family members in Evansville, Indiana.

Young George was always in search of an adventure. Every year it was his custom to build a flatboat, load it with handcrafted merchandise, and float down the river to trade with townspeople. One year, George decided not to return to Evansville. He had sold everything aboard his flatboat by the time he reached Vicksburg, Mississippi and decided to call this home.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, George drafted in the Confederate Army. Little did he know his four brothers were fighting on the opposite side in the Union Army. Fortunately the men never came face to face. After the war, George married and started a small tin shop in Vicksburg. In 1872, a tragic fire destroyed his tin shop, and shortly thereafter, George and his wife Anna decided to board the Robert E. Lee Riverboat to return to Evansville, Indiana.

In 1873, George Koch established the George Koch Tin Shop in Evansville with financial support from his family. In 1903, George Koch died, and his wife, Mary C. Koch, became president of the company. In 1904, Mary and her three sons incorporated the company name from the George Koch Tin Shop to George Koch Sons, Inc. in honor of their father. All three sons and their mother were directors and officers. Louis was elected secretary and treasurer. Though the name had changed, the sons maintained their father’s philosophy of hard work, quality, service, and innovation.

In 1906, Albert, the youngest brother, was elected as president. Albert’s older brother, George W., became vice president. Louis J. remained secretary, treasurer, and manager while Mary remained as a director.

The same year George died, 1903, Louis married Clarice Ashburn. Over the years, thecouple had nine children, Roderic Malcolm, George Ashburn, Mary Ellen (Helen), Robert Louis, William Albert, Martha Lois, Amelia Virginia, Katheryne (Kay), and Louis Joseph, Jr. (L.J.). Because of his children, Louis was able to use his talents to keep George Koch Sons thriving during World War I. During Christmastime in 1914, no toys were imported from Europe.

Louis experimented and developed tin horns as Christmas presents for his children. Orders began pouring in, and George Koch Sons began production of its first mass-produced manufactured product.

After World War I, the sales of tin horns slowed down and George Koch Sons stopped production. Fortunately, Louis came through again. Louis had formed a valuable relationship with Mead Johnson, Sr. who owned a company located two blocks from George Koch Sons. Louis solved Mead Johnson’s production problem of their number one selling product, Dextro Maltose, a nutritional drink. Mead Johnson, Sr. showed his appreciation to Mr. Koch for his achievement by guaranteeing all Mead Johnson jobs in Koch’s line of work. Their relationship lasted almost two decades through the 20’s and the 30’s, and Koch provided them the services needed day or night.

Toward the end of the 30’s, Louis’ oldest son, Malcolm, introduced George Koch Sons’ s second manufactured product, metal floral containers. Based on the experience gained in the production of tin horns, a process was developed to manufacture metal floral containers. The new floral containers were in demand. Production expanded rapidly, and soon GKS products were sold to florists all over the country. With aggressive monthly advertising, George Koch Sons became the largest manufacturer of floral metalcraft in the world. Each of the sons worked after school and during the summers at the company, and following college they became permanent employees of George Koch Sons. This succession of family helped provide a steady growth during a period when other businesses failed. New ideas joined with age-old skills kept the company expanding.

THIRD GENERATION

Roderic Malcolm, eldest son of Louis Koch, joined the company after attending the University of Wisconsin. He later graduated from the University of Evansville and received an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from the University of Southern Indiana in 1980. Malcolm began his work with the company as a machine shop foreman in the 20’s and served as the executive vice president from 1939 until his death in 1981. The Koch Planetarium was named after Malcolm for his efforts to bring a planetarium to the Evansville Museum of Arts and Science.

George Ashburn was the second son to enter the company. After his graduation from the University of Chicago, he worked in Chicago and Omaha, Nebraska and then returned to work in, and later direct, the Personnel Department of George Koch Sons. In 1953, Ashburn became the resident manager for George Koch Sons in Portsmouth, Ohio, where the company had received the largest ever sheetmetal contract to build an Atomic Energy Plant. Upon his return to Evansville in 1956, he served as vice president and industrial relations director, the position he held until his untimely death in 1959.

Robert Louis was the third son to join the family business. Bob began work in the factory, but because of his perfect manuscript, George Koch insisted he work in the Accounting Department. All work was handwritten at that time, and none of the other brothers had legible handwriting. Through his leadership, the company began selling its painting systems around the world. Bob received an honorary Doctor of Law degree from the University of Southern Indiana in 1977. Bob was very active in the community, serving on many community, bank, university, and business boards. He later became president and chairman of the board in 1962.

William Albert, the next son, entered the business in 1938 after receiving his degree from Purdue University. He helped develop and standardize industrial finishing products. He left for the Navy four years later. Following the war, he directed advertising for the various divisions and later accepted a position at a subsidiary of George Koch Sons, Santa Claus Land, located in Santa Claus, Indiana. Bill became manager of Santa Claus Land, the first theme park in the country. In 1984, George Koch Sons traded the assets of Santa Claus Land for the shares that Bill Koch and his family had in the company. He then renamed the new company the Koch Development Corporation. This company now includes Holiday World, Splashing Safari, Holiday Village, Christmas Lake Village, and the Lake Rudolph Resort.

L. J. Koch, Jr., youngest son of Louis, had been around the company with his father and older brothers since birth. He officially began his career at George Koch Sons in 1943. Following his return from the service and graduation from Southern Methodist University, he began the supervision of the company’s paint products and items for the Metalcraft florist line. In 1988 the company traded the assets of the Metalcraft business to L.J. Koch Jr. and his family for their shares in George Koch Sons. Later, L. J. renamed the company, Koch Originals, which manufactures decorative metal furniture and floral equipment.

NEW TECHNOLOGIES

The 1930’s brought about the industrialization of Evansville and a new division at George Koch Sons, the Industrial Division. George Koch Sons experienced continued success of the Metalcraft Division, but with the new industrialization of the city, noticed the need for a new product - paint finishing systems. George Koch Sons knew there was this need as they had trouble finding quality finishing paints to coat their metal. George Koch Sons realized that new companies needed quick-drying and durable finishing paint to use on their products.

The Industrial Division of Koch first developed paint curing and drying ovens, and then a series of standard ovens. They designed and manufactured pretreatment washers, paint ovens, spray booths, and conveyor systems. Before Koch knew it, all types of manufacturing businesses around the midwest began to look to Koch for their painting systems, drying ovens, and other industrial sheet metal needs.

UNCHARTED TERRITORY

In 1936, George Koch Sons decided for the first time to expand into an industry completely unrelated to their other business, the air conditioning industry. George Koch Sons bought a Carrier franchise and became the first franchised distributor for Carrier Air Conditioning Company. During this time, only two places in Evansville were air conditioned. They were cooled with well water that was run through a cooling coil with a large fan placed to blow across it and create cool air. Evansville became an air-conditioned city much sooner than other same size cities.

WORLD WAR II

In 1942, George Koch Sons stopped production of metalcraft for customers and started the construction of war products. A federal law was passed that required all manufacturing of non-essential metal goods to be stopped in order to use all metal in the war effort. As with all companies at this time, the plant’s chief duty became to support the country throughout World War II.

In support of the new law and increased war efforts, George Koch Sons built a new plant in 1942 on Upper Mount Vernon Road in Evansville. The craftsmen's metalworking skills were quickly put to use as they began the fabrication of parts for the famous LST ships. Other systems for the war effort were also produced at the new plant. These systems were produced for other factories throughout the US that included spray booths for aircraft wings, shell case testing equipment, and fixtures for aircraft wings and engines. Also manufactured were ovens for dehydrating, baking, and testing.

PEACETIME

Following the war, the plants went back to their regular product lines with the Metalcraft Division making an immediate success in their wrought-iron furniture line. The Industrial Division was also flourishing. They produced a conveyor that was, and still is, considered the most efficient in the wood finishing industry, the close-packing DeBurgh Conveyor.

During the 50’s, GKS was awarded several contracts. In 1952, the Atomic Energy Commission awarded Koch a $50 million contract, the largest sheetmetal project ever awarded to one firm in American business history. GKS was also awarded contracts with General Motors, Chrysler and Ford for special metal finishing systems. These systems used the methods of dip coating, flow coating and spraying - the forerunners of the electrocoating, electrostatic spray and powder coating systems the company supplies today.

Electronic advancements in the 60’s provided the company with an increased range of technology to provide new and improved finishing systems. This increase in technology also led George Koch Sons to the formation of a new division, Ashdee, to spearhead testing and research in the development of new equipment.

GLOBAL ENTRANCE

In 1990, GKS entered their first ever joint venture and global market with Page-Koch Europe Limited, now known as George Koch Sons Europe Limited. They joined a company in the United Kingdom owned by Page Process Systems Limited, dedicated to designing, building, commissioning and servicing paint finishing lines for automobile and major industrial users throughout Europe. With the considerations of ecology, George Koch Sons Europe has designed machines with higher standards of environmentally engineered systems. Robert L. Koch II stated, “The commitment to enter the European market was of great historical significance. Our founder, my great-grandfather, left Europe to seek new opportunities in the United States.” In 1999, James Muehlbauer was elected president of George Koch Sons, and in 2003, Steve Church served as president of George Koch Sons until the end of 2008. In 2009, Kevin R. Koch served as the interim president until Chris Brack was elected president in 2011.

TODAY

George Koch Sons helps customers find and implement the best solutions to their automated finishing systems, environmental, acoustical and thermal requirements.

KOCH supplies automated finishing systems for a wide variety of manufacturing industries in all industrialized areas of the world for all major coating technologies, including liquid paint, powder, electrocoat, anodizing, and plating systems.

Environmental solutions include water reuse and reclamation, air emissions control and abatement, and noise reduction.

Acoustical products include exterior noise barriers, personnel enclosures, and in-plant machinery enclosures to help limit noise exposure to people.

KOCH also applies core thermal expertise for applications outside of paint finishing, such as food and wood products drying.

George Koch Sons is headquartered in Evansville, Indiana. KOCH serves the Americas from engineering, service and manufacturing facilities in Evansville, Grand Rapids, MI and Rochester Hills, MI, service and technical support from its office in Queretaro, Mexico. George Koch Sons Europe serves Europe and Asia from its offices in Lichfield, England. KOCH’s highly experienced Team Members deliver the most reliable systems and the best customer experiences in the markets served. Customers recognize George Koch Sons as a smarter solution. Worldwide.