10 Fascinating Facts You Didn't Know About The Michelin Man

michelin man

By Tom Merola, Automotive Tire Expert | Email: tmerola@townfair.com

The Michelin Man is considered one of advertising's oldest trademarks. He is an unusual figure in logo design. A light-hearted, jolly character, the Michelin Man is more of a mascot for the brand, albeit a rather strange one constructed solely from tires.

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The 120-year-old character was conceived by Edouard and André Michelin, the brothers who founded the company. Legend has it, Edouard noticed a stack of tires at an auto industry show in Lyon, France in 1894 and remarked to André that it looked like a man without arms and legs.

Several years later, the Michelin Man was born.

Today, the Michelin Man is one of the most recognizable brand ambassadors in the world—not an easy feat to hold in 150 countries for over a century. Yet, his success goes back to the core of the Michelin brand and, ultimately, an ingenious brand strategy that’s held up just as long.

So because of this, we thought we’d put together some facts about the most famous tire salesman in the business.


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10. His Real Name is Bibendum

michelin man

His real name isn’t the Michelin Man. It’s actually Bibendum, which comes from the slogan, “Nunc est bibendum,” by the poet Horace’s Odes. In English it means, “Time to drink”. We’ve no idea what this means in regards to tires, but back in the early 1900s, drinking and driving wasn’t such an issue.

Cartoonist Marius Rossillon (aka O'Galop) is best known for creating Bibendum in 1898. O'Galop created the drawing of the logo on a rejected poster for a Munich brewery. O'Galop's version depicticted the "Man of Tires" drinking from a goblet filled with nails and broken glass, which was meant to be indicative of how tough and hardy Michelin tires were, and that they would not puncture that easily.

Compared to the cuddly mascot that contemporary audiences are accustomed to, early iterations of the Michelin Man featured him smoking a cigar and wearing glasses. The cigar slowly disappeared (and definitely wouldn’t be seen in advertising these days), and the glasses turned into the large eyes we now see in the current version.

9. His White Tire-Inspired Body is Historically Correct

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Prior to 1912, tires were either grey-white or had a light translucent beige hue. That is because the natural color of rubber is a milky white. However, the main reason for black tires on cars today, is the chemical compound carbon black. It is used as a stabilizing chemical, which is combined with other polymers to create the tread compound of a tire.

Once added to the rubber, carbon black increases the strength and durability of the tires, which is understandably seen as a desirable trait for tire manufacturers and car drivers. One way carbon black expands the lifespan of tires is by conducting heat away from parts of the tire that tend to get particularly hot when driving, such as the tread and belt areas.

8. He Used To Be A Bit Creepy Looking

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Many of the posters from the early 20th-century depict him as a somewhat sinister figure, large and bespectacled, drinking champagne, and chomping permanently on a cigar. This led to the character being known for a while as the “road drunkard,” an image that would be abhorrent to any car-related company today.

In the Italian market, he was depicted as a nimble ballroom dancer and a pleasure-seeking ladies' man - An attempt to appeal to the wealthy upper-class folks who had the monetary funds to purchase a car.

But in the 1920s, he toned down and took on a more refined, family-friendly image. He quit alcohol, stopped smoking, shed plenty of weight and is even a touch macho-looking.

7. He’s A Trusted Travel Agent

michelin green guide

In 1900, there were fewer than 3,000 cars on the roads of France. To increase the demand for cars and, accordingly, car tires, the Michelin brothers published a guide for French motorists, the Michelin Guide.

The Michelin Green Guides provided useful information to motorists, such as maps, tire repair and replacement instructions, car mechanics listings, hotels, and gas stations throughout France. Other Green Guides cover many countries, regions, and cities outside France. Many Green Guides are published in several languages. They include background information and an alphabetical section describing points of interest.

Michelin uses a "three-star system" for recommending sites ranging from "worth a trip" to "worth a detour", and "interesting". And to protect you and your loved ones while on these trips was none other than Bibs.

6. He’s Gone Through Different Phases Of Life

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From the 1930s onwards, Michelin made increasingly less use of outside artists. As a result, images of the Michelin Man became more standard. Adapting to the evolution of tires, his rings became thicker and the character dropped his wealthy image to move closer to a broader customer base.

By the 1950s he had become a more rotund figure. A further 20 years on saw him transformed into a true cartoon. Heritage has also played a large part in his enduring presence and the success story of the brand. He has on occasion broken out of the realms of advertising and entered other forms of popular culture.

Recently, he played a key role in the Oscar-winning animated short, Logorama, which saw two Michelin cops hunting down a villainous Ronald McDonald.

5. He's The Strong, Silent Type

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Bibendum got his first—and only—speaking engagement in December of 1898 at a Paris cycle show: André Michelin had commissioned a large cardboard cutout of him to be set up at the Michelin booth, and instructed a cabaret comedian to crouch behind to provide animated banter. According to historic records, André had specified that he wanted someone with "perfect elocution," "keen repartee," and "wit without vulgarity.”

The spectacle was said to have attracted such a large crowd that pushing and shoving ensued, and the police had to be called in to restore order.

From the early 2000s, however, when Bibendum's commercials were everywhere, he preferred to stay mum. This was a deliberate decision made by advertising agency, Campbell-Ewald. "His silence is an artistic choice... he's the strong, silent type,” said the agency's creative director, John Stewart.

4. He’s A World-Renowned Food Critic

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Gordon Ramsay, the British celebrity chef known for the passionate and mean way he tears apart subpar food, actually cried when his New York restaurant The London lost its prestigious two Michelin Stars in 2014.

Unlike the previously mentioned "Green Guides", the "Red Guides" notably list restaurants by specific categories. Recognizing the growing popularity of the restaurant section of the guide, the Michelin brothers recruited a team of inspectors to visit and review restaurants, who were always anonymous.

The guide began to award stars for fine dining establishments in 1926. Initially, there was only a single star awarded. Then, in 1931, the hierarchy of zero, one, two, and three stars was introduced. Finally, in 1936, the criteria for the starred rankings were published and still stands today.

Since 1955, the guide has also highlighted restaurants offering "exceptionally good food at moderate prices", a feature now called "Bib (Bibendum) Gourmand". They must offer menu items priced below a maximum determined by local economic standards.

The French chef Paul Bocuse, one of the pioneers of nouvelle cuisine in the 1960s, said, "Michelin is the only guide that counts."

3. He Has Furniture Fashioned In His Image

bibendum eileen gray

The phrase "looking like the Michelin Man" is often used when feeling overweight or wearing bulky winter clothes. However, this puffy simplicity has inspired many artistic minds. In particular, 20th century designer Eileen Gray, who created an innovative Bibendum Chair designed for lounging in and socializing with friends. It was for places to be comfortable in.

The chair’s back and armrests consists of two semi-circular, padded tubes encased in soft, black leather. The chair was designed for a French hat designer, Madame Mathieu Lévy, to re-design the interior of her apartment in Paris. The process took Eileen Grey four long and painstaking years before the chair was completed in 1921.

The Bibendum Chair in itself was unlike anything ever seen before and its originality was quite amazing at the time. It still fits in to a modern setting today. Like all classic design it is of a time and timeless.

In today’s money, a full grain leather-coated Bibendum Chair would sell for an approximate price of 24 million dollars!

2. There's A Restaurant In London That Pays Tribute To Him

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Opened in 1986, Bibendum Restaurant and Oyster Bar in London is a joint project by prominent British restaurateurs Sir Terence Conran and Lord Paul Hamlyn.

Located in the famous Michelin building in the heart of Kensington, Bibendum is probably as well renowned for it's beautiful stained glass windows as it's consistently excellent french cuisine. The front of the building was originally a tire bay for passing motorists, and restaurant diners today are still greeted by mosaic floor tiles showing Bibendum as a kicking boxer and a cigar-puffing cyclist.

The Dining Room is a visual feast as well as a feast for the tastebuds. Dining in the day, light streams through the spectacular stained glass windows, and the high-ceilinged restaurant buzzes with activity. The evening brings with it a sense of elegance and glamour, and the right combination of welcome, attentiveness and professionalism has been honed to perfection over the restaurant's 20 year history.

Unsurprisingly, the restaurant is listed in the Michelin Guide UK edition.

1. He Was Awarded Icon of the Millennium

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In 2018, Advertising Week awarded the "Millennium Icon Award" to the world famous Michelin Man during ceremonies at Times Square in New York.

One of the world’s oldest trademarks and with his global reach and emotional influence, Bibendum has played a significant role in propelling Michelin to 11th place in the worldwide ranking of Reputation Institute.

He is a living character who embodies the Michelin Group, its values, commitments and missions. As the Group’s spokesperson for better mobility, he passes messages and advises all road users and accompanies them in every journey.

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