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  Bibendum History

The History of Bibendum aka Michelin Man

One of the most well known advertising images in the world is Bibendum or as he is more popularly known The Michelin Man.  The Michelin Man is the brand image of the Michelin Tyre Company "Manufacture Française des Pneumatiques Michelin" which is based in Clermont Ferrand in France.  It is important to know a little about the history of the Michelin Company which existed before the creation of Bibendum

The present Michelin Company dates back to 1829 when Édouard Daubrée marries a Scott, Elizabeth Pugh Barker niece of the scientist Macintosh who discovered the solubility of rubber in benzene.  She introduced rubber into the French Auvergne region by manufacturing play balls for children, first by hand and then with help of a machine invented by her husband

1832 - Two cousins, Aristide Barbier and Édouard Daubrée open a small manufacturing plant for farm machinery and rubber balls in Clermont Ferrand.  They are quick to foresee the potential industrial applications of rubber and use it to manufacture gaskets, valves and tubing.

1889 - With the support of his brother who is already working for the family company Édouard Michelin closes up his painting studio in Paris to take over the management of the company, which becomes Michelin & Co.

1898 - At the Universal and Colonial Exhibition in Lyon in 1894, the entrance to the Michelin stand is decorated with two columns of tyres piled high, prompting Édouard Michelin to remark "Give it some arms and legs and it would look like a man!"  Soon afterwards, André Michelin conceives a character based on a sketch by the illustrator O'Galop, alias Marius Rossillon.  His motto is "Nunc est Bibendum" a Latin verse from the poet Horace which means "Now is the time to drink!"  and so in 1898 the "Michelin Man" was born in a series of posters which rapidly became famous and as familiar as the jovial character the French still call "Bibendum"

The present Michelin Company dates back to 1829 when Édouard Daubrée marries a Scott, Elizabeth Pugh Barker niece of the scientist Macintosh who discovered the solubility of rubber in benzene.  She introduced rubber into the French Auvergne region by manufacturing play balls for children, first by hand and then with help of a machine invented by her husband

1832 - Two cousins, Aristide Barbier and Édouard Daubrée open a small manufacturing plant for farm machinery and rubber balls in Clermont Ferrand.  They are quick to foresee the potential industrial applications of rubber and use it to manufacture gaskets, valves and tubing.

1889 - With the support of his brother who is already working for the family company Édouard Michelin closes up his painting studio in Paris to take over the management of the company, which becomes Michelin & Co.

1898 - At the Universal and Colonial Exhibition in Lyon in 1894, the entrance to the Michelin stand is decorated with two columns of tyres piled high, prompting Édouard Michelin to remark "Give it some arms and legs and it would look like a man!"  Soon afterwards, André Michelin conceives a character based on a sketch by the illustrator O'Galop, alias Marius Rossillon.  His motto is "Nunc est Bibendum" a Latin verse from the poet Horace which means "Now is the time to drink!"  and so in 1898 the "Michelin Man" was born in a series of posters which rapidly became famous and as familiar as the jovial character the French still call "Bibendum"

Bibendums career as a public figure began in June when he starred as a cardboard cut-out, on the Michelin stand at the Paris Motor Show in the Tuileries Gardens, an imposing silhouette strategically placed to impress visitors.  At his feet a phonograph broadcast a series of spoken messages, popular songs and operatic airs, interspersed with slogans vaunting the merits of Michelin tyres.  Visitors were hugely taken with the image of the cup of nails and shards of glass with which Bibendum quenched his inexhaustible thirst, the embodiment of a tyre "gulping down obstacles", to the extent that for a while the rubber man was known as the "road drunkard"

At first the nail drinker had a variety of nicknames but had not been christened officially.  This came about by a chance.  A month later, that July competitor Léon Théry saw André Michelin driving up in his Panhard-Lavasseur to attend the Paris - Amsterdam - Paris race, and exclaimed "Hey, here comes Bibendum"  Michelin was so amused that he decided on the spot to appropriate the name for his publicity mascot.

Delighted by his mascots growing popularity, André Michelin decided he would take the process a stage further at the Paris Cycle Show at the Champ de Mars that December.  Bibendum would of course be present, but instead of using a phonograph, his voice would be produced by a fairground barker.  He appointed one of his recent recruits, a young man called Patsy, to scout for the necessary talent, someone with the stentorian tones appropriate to such an imposing figure as the rubber man.  Unaccustomed to head-hunting missions of this kind, Patsy's first idea was to stand around the Paris markets listening to the salesmen selling their wares.  "Perfect Elocution" the boss had told him "Keen repartee.. Wit without vulgarity" A tall order indeed.  After a days searching he still had nothing to show for his efforts.

Young Patsy was not one to be easily discouraged however and on reflection, he decided his best chance of finding the man he wanted lay in doing the rounds of cabarets currently flourishing following the success of Rodolphe Salis's Chat Noir cabaret.  Night after night he combed the streets of Montmartre  and the Latin quarter until one evening he found himself at the Cabaret du Ciel at 53 Boulevard de Clichy, watching an act by two comedians disguised as preachers.  Just what he was looking for!  And thus it was that a comedian-preacher was hired to lend his voice to Bibendum from 2pm to 5pm every day.  The impersonation went so well that the massive crowd that gathered to watch and listen began to obstruct the view of the neighbouring stand - A rival tyre company!

Since his conception in 1898 Bibendum has undergone many changes, he has lost a number of rubber rings, stopped smoking his cigar, changed his glasses, become less frightening, he has become fatter and then slimmer.  There is no end of poses and situations that he has been in.  He is very much alive and well and is still one of the most recognisable and venerable advertising symbol in the world

Further Reading

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Michelin Centenary 1905 - 2005 by Paul Niblett and John Reynolds
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One Hundred Years of the Michelin Man by Oliver Darmon
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Bibendum Publicité et Object Michelin by Pierre-Gabriel
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Tyres by Giuseppe Raimondi 

Text Credit Oliver Darmon - One Hundred Years of Michelin Man - Published October 1997

   
 

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