Bibendum the Michelin Man
Édouard and André Michelin were two brothers who ran a rubber factory in Clermont-Ferrand, France. One day a cyclist turned up at the factory with a pneumatic tire that needed repair. At that time such cycle tires were glued to the rim and fixing one was a problem and so he and his brother worked to create a pneumatic tire that did not need to be glued to the rim. On May 28, 1888 the brothers incorporated their business under the name Michelin and in 1891 took out their first patent for a removable pneumatic tire. The new tire was used in that same year by Charles Terront to win the world’s first long distance cycle race, Paris-Brest-Paris.
In 1894 while attending the Universal and Colonial Exposition, Édouard and André noticed a stack of tires which reminded them of a man. Four years later André met a French cartoonist by the name of Marious Rossillon (1867-1946). Rossillon used the pseudonym O’Galop on most of his art work. O’Galop showed André a rejected image he had created for a Munich Brewery which featured a robust man holding a beer with the a quotation from Horace “Nunc est bibendum” (Now is the time to drink). André liked the art and commissioned O’Galop to replace the man with a figure made from tires.
The first logo was based on light colored bicycle tires and Bibenbum the Michelin Man work pince-nez glasses and smoked a big cigar. Over the years the logo evolved with the Michelin Man composed of automobile tires, he stopped wearing glasses, quit smoking, thinned down and has become a more cuddly version. Today Bibedum is one of the world’s most recognized trademarks representing Michelin in over 150 countries.
As with all companies in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Michelin used many forms of print publications to advertise their products. Posters, postcards, trade cards and news publication advertising flourished. For this article, we are going to show you three different style postcards featuring the Michelin Man.
The first postcard, shown above, features the Michelin man defeating would be robbers and reads in part “Michelin defies any attack”. This poster style cartoon was designed by French artist H. Delaspre. Delaspre’s rendition of Bibendum shows him with a top hat and cane and features exercise equipment. The postcard was issued before the French government allowed messages to be written on the address side in 1904.
Of special note on this card is the cartoon printed on the address side. The small black and white cartoon was designed by O’Galop and shows a muscular Michelin man exercising.
The next postcard features two giant Michelin men riding in a parade float at the Portland Rose Festival in 1912. The festival began in 1907 in Portland, Oregon and by 1912 was one of the largest floral parades in the United States. Michelin took advantage of the large crowds at this and other parades around the country by having their mascot ride on floats. This particular postcard is a processed photograph, rather than a printed card, and was taken by the Electric Studio a well known publisher of postcards at the time.
The last postcard was published by the Michelin plant at Milltown, New Jersey. In 1907 Michelin purchased a rubber factory in Milltown and revived the stagnant economy of the borough with local jobs and increased immigration of workers and their families from France. By the early 1920’s the company had built over 200 bungalows for housing some of it’s workers and at their peak employed more than 2,000 men and women. By the late 1920’s the company decided that costs and wages were cheaper in France and decided to move manufacturing back there. In 1930 Michelin closed it’s doors in Milltown. The loss of the plant added to the pain of the Great Depression for the people of the area. This postcard features the work of René Vincent (1879-1936). This art deco style card from the 1920’s shows Bibendum helping a family stuck with a flat tire. The postcard offers to send customers a poster of the design for 10¢ in coin or stamps.
Every company hopes that they can come up with a mascot or logo that defines them, that people like and recognize, a design that can evolve in an ever changing world and marketplace. Michelin achieved that goal and Bibendum the Michelin Man lives on.