1898 - 2018: the Michelin Man is 120
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 tires, the Michelin Man has accompanied generation after generation of travelers 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 tires. 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 means: “Now is the time to drink”. Next, he 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 tire use. He is the genie of Mobility, who advises and guides.
From O’Galop to the Michelin Design Studio: the birth of a legend
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 his 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 him easier to recognize, Michelin soon standardized 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 tires 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 recognized all over the world.
The reflection of an era
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.
A universal character
His international career started very early. With the sales teams, he traveled 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.
His story has never stopped and neither have his design developments. Which is why he changed again in 2017, to keep in line with his eternally modern approach...
A brief biography
Of the Michelin Man
Birth of a character from the brushes of cartoonist O’Galop
Previously only seen as a bust, the Michelin Man finally shows his legs
The Michelin Man becomes an international celebrity
BDDP’s advertising campaign confirms the popularity of the character
The Michelin Man is voted the best brand icon of all time by the Financial Times
He becomes a 3D computer-generated character
First global advertising campaign: “The right tire changes everything”
Back to 2D with a new shape to go with the flat design of the new Michelin visual identity
The faces of the Michelin Man
20 years in 7 dates and six previously unseen drawings
The birth and life of the Michelin Man read like an adventure novel. A novel and an adventure that have lasted 120 years. To celebrate this anniversary, Michelin has extracted a few chapters from his archives and a collection of previously unseen drawings produced by the Michelin Design Studio. The Michelin Man’s attitudes and positions are quirky and off-the-wall. These drawings have been carefully chosen for their originality and the quality of their design. The Michelin Man like you’ve never seen him before!
1908 : Bibendum the dragonfly
Land may be his favorite playing field, but the Michelin Man is also very comfortable in the air. Which makes sense as he’s made of air! From the very first years of the 20th century, he closely followed the early days of the burgeoning disciple that was aviation. At the time, aircraft and biplanes only flew short distances. But spurred on by intrepid and courageous flying enthusiasts, the machines improved and distances grew. Convinced of the importance of this new means of transport, the Michelin Man decided to take these modern adventurers "under his wing” and in 1908, created a special Michelin Cup and Prize.
1914 : Bibendum, the magician
“A prediction... The 662nd Monday”. This is a genuinely mysterious cartoon. There are spell books open in front of him, a black cat on his shoulder, a wizard’s hat on his head... The Michelin Man appears to be taking himself for a magician... But the comparison ends there because for Michelin, predicting the future is no magic trick. On the contrary, it is a very serious subject as it’s all about preparing for future challenges. This is what Edouard Michelin said in his note of 2nd July 1929 entitled “The spirit of observation”: “The past is the past and it was good. The future must be even better and it will only be so if we move fast, otherwise we will be late. What is the point of inventing something if someone else gets there before us? We have to be First [...]!” This cartoon illustrates one of the columns written by the Michelin Man, published every week in L’Auto newspaper, the famous “Michelin Mondays’. And here is the prediction of the 662nd Monday, finally revealed: “Brother motorists who drink in my words like I drink in obstacles, I predict that my father Michelin’s competitors will recommend to you [...] special types of tires that will cost more than Michelin tires...and they will not be worth it!”
1930 : the diver
Like many artists, the cartoonists in the Michelin Design Studio drew inspiration from their era. So it’s not rare to find a few influences in their drawings. This “Bibendum, the diver” (one of a series of 6 drawings) is in the style of E.C. Segar (1894-1938), creator of Popeye, the famous sailor. Just like the Michelin Man, this comic strip character was famous the whole world over for his strength and incredible physical resistance. A parallel which did not escape the author of this design tribute.
1952 : Bibendum gets married
That year, the Paris Motor Show was the stage for an incredible event... Curious bystanders will say that is was the wedding of the Michelin Man, but specialists will explain in great detail all about the fabulous “marriage between steel and textiles”. From this revolutionary technological union came radial tires for all types of motorized vehicles: cars (1949), heavy trucks (1952), construction vehicles (1959), farming vehicles (1978), planes (1981) and motorbikes (1984). The ceremony took place at the Michelin booth in front of an astounded crowd. An event that definitely did not go unnoticed! Once again, Michelin made an impression with effective yet simple communication; it used an example that speaks to the greatest number with advertising that made a complex innovation understandable.
1955 : Bibendum goes shopping
Through various initiatives, often very advanced for their time, Michelin has always committed and involved itself in social and societal issues. SOCAP (the Michelin Staff Cooperative Supply Company) is a perfect example of this. This pioneering supermarket sells employees everyday items at moderate prices. The first store opened its doors in 1910. Other points of sale then appeared to total a dozen in 1927. Originally reserved for Michelin employees, they became accessible to a broader customer base. The Michelin Design Studio drew a cartoon of the Michelin Man doing his shopping for the advertising leaflets promoting special offers and new products.
2017 : A better way forward
For the 9th time since his birth in 1898, the Michelin Man evolved once again to stay faithful to his timeless modernism. This new version incarnates what the Michelin Group wants to project: an everyday partner who is discreet, considerate and reassuring. Today, the Michelin Man leaves the leading role to our customers. The new visual identity has two logos: one for the Group, the other for the commercial brand. Whilst similar to the previous logo, the two designs portray a well-defined Michelin Man to make him more visible, more expressive and to strengthen his closeness to the customer. In 2017, Michelin once again began selling the figure that sits on top of truck cabs...
2018 : The Michelin Man is 120 years old
A specific design has been created to advertise this event. The image shows Bibendum from 1898 and today’s Michelin Man shaking hands. This handshake expresses Michelin’s continuity: yesterday, today and tomorrow. The composition, inspired by a historic design, was updated by Mostapha El Oulhani, designer of the Vision tire.
The Michelin Adventure celebrates “Bibendum”
For the 120th birthday of the Michelin Man, L’Aventure Michelin, a unique place open to everyone that safeguards the Group’s legacy and heritage, is celebrating the event with a major exhibition from July 27th to December 31th. Don’t miss it!