He was devised as a brand ambassador, except they didn’t know what one of those was in Central France in the later 1890s.
In 1894, founding brothers Edouard and Andre Michelin, were in Lyon at a cultural exhibition and saw a stack of tyres that suggested the form of a man. In 1895 French cartoonist Marius Rossillon (aka “O’Galop”) was retained by Andre to develop an idea that O’Galop had presented to a Munich brewery – and had had rejected – of large beer wielding man who, at Andre’s suggestion, should be clad in tyres and be accompanied by the compelling quote (from the epic Horace’s Odes) “Nunc est Bibendum” (Literally: “Now is the time to Drink”). In so doing O’Galop gave life to “Bibendum” (or “Bib”) as he became known around 1908 and a character for Michelin’s iconic and hugely recognisable world-wide trade mark.
Michelin was incorporated on 28 May 1889 by the brothers who ran a rubber factory in Clarmont-Ferrand (Central France) and were challenged to develop a removeable pneumatic tyres. They secured a first patent in 1891 and their tyres were used the same year by cyclist, Charles Torrent, who won the world’s first long distance cycle race “Paris–Brest–Paris”.
The name Michelin has undergone somewhat of a brand extension with Bib the constant theme – save that he now appears in slightly plumper car tyre – as opposed to his early incarnation in slimmer cycle tyres – and his cigar and pince-nez glasses – from the early days have now been removed.
Michelin has become synonymous with their cultural “Michelin Red Guides” which is the oldest hotel and restaurant reference guide in Europe. As many will be familiar, stars – up to a maximum of three are awarded for excellence and the gaining or losing of a star(s) often has a commensurate impact on the success or failure of an hotel or resturant.
First launched in 1900, when there were less than 3,000 cars in France, in fact 35,000 of the first edition were printed and given away. The clear intention was to boost the sales of cars and thereby increase demand for tyres. In 1955, the Bib Gourmand was launched in France as a guide to restaurants offering “exceptional good food at moderate prices,”.
In 1934, Michelin secured the largest shareholding in Citroen – the French car manufacturer – as a result of the the latter’s bankruptcy. As Citroen’s largest creditor, Michelin assume responsibility for the Citroen brand and the fortunes of these two companies became intertwined. Product testing and development of new tyres on this captive brand was a coup for Michelin and the Citroen brand experienced a renaissance with several classic vehicles – with Bib ever present on the side walls of their tyres. Indeed Michelin still make the classic 125R400 Michelin X that were designed to be fitted to the Citroen 2CV.
My own regular encounter with Bib comes every time I am in London, especially at the iconic Michelin House at 81 Fulham Road (Chelsea, London SW7) that was designed by Michelin employee, François Espinasse. Opened in 1911 as the UK headquarters and tyre depot for Michelin, since 1987 the re-developed building has housed the eponymous “Bibendum” restaurant – check out their sale of lobsters late own Saturday afternoon – The Conran Shop and other offices. Bib is ever present, particularly in the three stunning stained glass windows (that were removed and relocated during the Second War for fear of damage) and in the mosaic tiled floor.
See here a 1935 cartoon depicting “The Story of Bibendum – The Michelin Man” The Story of Bibendum