The Terrifying Orginal Michelin Man
Just about everybody knows about the Michelin Man, the rotund amalgamation of tires that represents the company's steadfast commitment to automotive safety. However, did you know the Michelin Man’s inception dates back well over 100 years? Or that he began life as an alcohol-drinking, cigar-smoking, axe-wielding murderer of the competition?
That’s right. The friendliest face in automotive tires today actually more closely resembled a cross between Frankenstein and an alcoholic Kool-aid Man when he first debuted in 1898. Here’s the story of the Michelin Man’s incredible journey from spooky to sociable.
Before The Michelin Man There Was Bibendum
Around the turn of the 20th century the Michelin brothers, Édouard and André, spied a stack of tires and Édouard noted, “Look, with arms and legs, it would make a man.” Despite that moment of epiphany, it took five more years and a drawing of King Gambrinus, the patron saint of brewing, by cartoonist Marius Rossillon (who also drew the original “tire man”) for the first rendition of the Michelin man to fully come alive.
The drawing of King Gambrinus included “nunc est bibendum.” In Latin it reads, “Now it is time to drink.” For the Paris–Amsterdam–Paris race in 1898, the Michelin brothers added that phrase to their “tire man” advertisement. When driver Léon Théry shouted, “Voila Bibendum, Vive Bibendum,” the brothers found the mascot’s name for their eponymous company.