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March 30, 2023

Vintage Photographs of the Original Michelin Man, the Brand Icon of Michelin Tires

Widely-known as the “Michelin Man,” who has been the beloved face of the Michelin brand since 1898, the tubby white mascot’s name is actually Bibendum (or Bib for short). He even has a category for value-for-money restaurants in Michelin's guidebooks—the Bib Gourmand—named after him.

While attending the Universal and Colonial Exposition in Lyon in 1894, Édouard and André Michelin noticed a stack of tires that suggested to Édouard the figure of a man without arms. Four years later, André met French cartoonist Marius Rossillon, popularly known as O’Galop, who showed him a rejected image he had created for a Munich brewery—a large, regal figure holding a huge glass of beer and quoting Horace’s phrase Nunc est bibendum (“Now is the time for drinking”). André immediately suggested replacing the man with a figure made from tires, and O’Galop adapted the earlier image into Michelin’s symbol. Today, Bibendum is one of the world’s most recognized trademarks, representing Michelin in over 150 countries.

Rubber tires were originally gray-white, or light or translucent beige. In 1912, they became black when carbon was added to them as a preservative and strengthener. The company changed Bibendum’s color to black as well, and featured him that way in several print ads. They decided to abandon the change, citing printing and aesthetic issues (not racial concerns, as is commonly believed).

The image of the plump tire-man is sometimes used to describe an obese person, or someone wearing comically bulky clothing (e.g. “How can I wrap up warmly without looking like the Michelin Man?”).

Bibendum’s shape has changed over the years. O’Galop’s logo was based on bicycle tires, wore pince-nez glasses with lanyard, and smoked a cigar. By the 1960s, Bibendum was shown running, often rolling a tire as well, and no longer smoked. In 1998, his 100th anniversary, a slimmed-down version of him (sans glasses) was adopted. reflecting the lower-profile, smaller tires of modern cars. A computer-animated version of Bibendum has appeared in American television ads, with a pet puppy similar in appearance to him.


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