120 years? Really? He’s been around 120 years already? Who? The Michelin Man, of course!
Born in 1898, this year Bibendum (the Michelin Man’s real name) is celebrating his 120th birthday. Dreamed up by the Michelin brothers and cartoonist O’Galop, and designed from a stack of tyres, the Michelin Man has accompanied generation after generation of travellers and motorists all around the world. We take a look back at a success story spanning over a hundred years.
“With arms like that, he’ll be a big guy!”
If girls are made of sugar and spice and boys of snips and snails, the Michelin Man was made from a stack of tyres. Which is perfectly normal for a hero of the car industry! His inimitable silhouette came straight from the imagination of André and Edouard Michelin, and became a reality through the brushes of the artist Marius Rossillon, known by his nom de plume “O’Galop”.
In 1898, Bibendum, or the Michelin Man, was the star of an astonishing poster entitled “Nunc est Bibendum” in reference to a poem by Horace and which means “Now is the time to drink”. Next, Bibendum appeared in full size at the Michelin booth for the first edition of the Paris Motor Show.
Each of his public appearances quickly created a buzz. He quickly established a certain friendship with his admirers. A stroke of advertising genius, he appeared on every one of the brand’s advertising resources, illustrating and explaining technical information associated with correct tyre use. He is the genie of mobility, who advises and guides.
O’Galop was the first to bring the Michelin Man to life, but other great names in advertising and poster art also contributed to his fame. Thanks to them, he quickly acquired a human personality – Hautot, Grand Aigle, Riz, Cousyn and René Vincent are just a few of the artists during that era who illustrated Bibendum’s jokes and gave him an expressive character. At the time, each artist represented his own idea and style, developing the design and shape to match their inspiration.
But to make Bibendum easier to recognise, Michelin soon standardised his representation. And this became even simpler when the Michelin Manufacture employed its own full-time artists in its Design Studio in the 1920s. Now with a defined number of tyres for his body and clear style lines, little by little the Michelin Man became a universal icon. Smiling, kind, protective, mischievous, the Michelin Man is today known and recognised all over the world.
His development says a lot about the history of the car industry. Initially, he bore the features of a social class that at the time was the only one that could afford to try this new means of transport (monocle, cigar, signet ring, cuff links, etc.). Then, little by little, cars became affordable and the Michelin Man removed his accessories and became the friendly guy we know today.
His international career started very early. With the sales teams, he travelled roads the world over to meet new clients and forge the brand’s reputation. No continent escaped his charms. From the 1920s, his fame was already planetary.
His popularity grew as the years went by, testified by the ultimate tribute in 2000 – the Michelin Man was voted the best brand icon of all time by a jury of professionals for the Financial Times. The same year, he appeared with a very high-tech design in 3D, confirming his predilection for innovation and technology.
Bibendum’s story has never stopped and neither have his design developments. Which is why he changed again in 2017, to keep in line with the eternally modern approach of the Michelin Man.