Fred Kohler was born in Kansas City, Missouri. As a teen, he began to pursue a career in vaudeville, but worked other jobs to support himself. He lost part of his right hand in a mining accident during this time. Eventually he was able to join a touring company, and worked steadinly in show business for several years.
As with many actors of his day, America's budding film industry drew a 20-something Kohler to Hollywood, where he made his start in silent films. His first role was in the 1911 short The Code of Honor, and he had an uncredited role in 1917's Joan the Woman, but a steady stream of parts did not begin until 1919's The Tiger's Trail. Kohler's imposing 6-foot physique and stern features earned him a niche playing villains. His 1924 role as Bauman in The Iron Horse is a notable example. With the advent of the talkies, Kohler reprised many of his silent roles in remakes with sound, particularly in Westerns based on novels by Zane Gray.
Kohler's career was ended by his death at age 50. He died of a heart attack on October 28, 1938.