Max Kohl, who had previously operated traditional grocery stores, built his first Kohl's supermarket in 1946, first in what would become a southeastern Wisconsin chain known as Kohl's Food Stores.In 1962, he started his first department store, also called Kohl's Department Stores.
In 1972 the British-American Tobacco Company's U.S. retail division, BATUS Inc., bought a controlling interest in Kohl's Corp., which at the time operated 50 grocery stores, six department stores, three drug stores and three liquor stores.The Kohl family, led by Allen and Herb Kohl, stayed on to manage the company. The family left the management in 1979, and Herb Kohl went on to become a United States Senator and owner of the Milwaukee Bucks. This firm expanded Kohl's presence from 10 to 39 stores in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. The grocery stores were eventually sold to A&P in 1983, operating under the name Kohl's II, but the last of them were later closed in 2003.
A group of investors, including the senior management, purchased the company in 1986, and the company added 27 more stores in the next two years. In 1988, the chain acquired 26 locations from Chicago-based MainStreet, gaining several stores in Chicago's suburbs, Minneapolis, Minnesota and parts of Michigan. In 1992, the company went public and a period of expansion began. Kohl's entered mid-Atlantic markets in 1997 ; Texas, Missouri and the North East in 1999; Georgia and the Southeast in 2001; New England in 2002; California and the Southwest in 2003; and the Northwest in 2006.
The chain's expansion has mainly focused on the middle of the country; however, they recently expanded into the Rochester and Buffalo markets in Western New York. In April 2005, the company opened stores in Florida and other Southern states.
Opening in January 2007 is Kohl's design office, to be located in the heart of New York's Garment District. The 23,000-square-foot facility, located at 1359 Broadway, is the company's first product-design presence in the nation's fashion capital.