This company, one of the world's most well known tire manufacturers, was first created in 1832 by Nicolas Edouard Daubree and his cousin. Initially, the company manufactured two agricultural pieces of equipment, starting in 1840, but then as a result of the creation of permanent rubber by Charles Goodyear in 1839, the company began to move into the manufacture of a range of other products including drive belts, seals and conveyors. When the two founders passed away, the two brothers Andre and Edouard Michelin took over the company and renamed it "Michelin" in 1889. In 1891 they expanded operations to include air-filled bicycle tires and in 1895 broke new ground by introducing similar air-filled rubber tires for cars. The concept of the tire man was an inspiration of Edourd when he saw a pile of stacked tires which looked like the shape of a human. In line with the changes in the industry where tires have changed and evolved over time, so too are the tires of varying sizes on the tire man. Initially the tire man consisted of 11 elements, but now he only exists in four elements and is widely used on posters, television commercials and signage.
An animated cartoon was made in the 1930s to show the Birth of Bibendum (embedded below).
No sooner was the Michelin Man born when he began to play a major role for the company: it was he who presented the products and advised and assisted motorists, becoming the brand’s worldwide ambassador.
In 1905, Michelin opened a sales office in London. The Michelin Man changed into a knight to conquer this new territory, wearing a helmet and carrying a shield. For his coat of arms, O’Galop drew his accoutrements: the spectacles, the cup, a cigar, and the cross-section of a tyre with a nail incapable of puncturing it. In the caption, a line from Tennyson is adapted to promote his tyres, “My strength is as the strength of ten, because my rubber is pure.”
As early as 1907 the Michelin Man crossed the Atlantic and set up a factory in Milltown, New Jersey. The advertising became more educational: the Michelin Man was depicted as a giant accompanying and advising travellers by explaining the advantages of his products.
From 1907 to 1915, the Agenzia dei Italia Pneumatici Michelin published a monthly review sent to its customers by post. It copied the fun but educational format of the “Michelin Mondays” in France. Particular care was taken with the cover illustrations, which naturally involved the Michelin Man. The Italians turned the character into even more of a hero than he was in France. On this cover the Michelin Man is a sort of diplomat idolised by women.
Michelin used a large number of artists who each brought their own interpretation to the character. His shape was guided by the narrow silhouette of the tyres, while his appearance and attitude reflected the customer of the time, smoking a cigar and wearing spectacles, here in 1914.
In North Africa in 1922, Roger Broders showed the company’s mascot dressed as a Bedouin. Adopting local costume, the Michelin Man slipped on babouches and a djellaba.
From the 1930s onwards, Michelin made increasingly less use of outside artists. As a result, images of the Michelin Man became more standardised, although there were country-specific variants. Adapting to the evolution of tyres, his rings became thicker and the character dropped his wealthy image to move closer to a broader customer base.
In Germany, as in the Nordic countries, the Michelin Man dons a hat, boots and a scarf when the weather gets cold in winter. In Japan, he was seen as a ladies’ man with his sumo-like proportions.
The character’s sportive nature is often symbolised through this famous attitude of the racing Michelin Man.
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