History of the Michelin Man

Many of the posters from the early 20th-century depict him as a somewhat sinister figure, large and bespectacled and chomping permanently on a cigar. Initially he was shown drinking champagne, which linked to the Latinate toast, and this was reinforced by a strangely worded tagline that had been first mentioned in 1893: "À Votre Santé Le Pneu Michelin Boit L’Obstacle!" (The Michelin tire drinks up obstacles!). The poster apparently led to the character being known for a while as the "road drunkard," an image that would be abhorrent to any car-related company today. But the Michelin Man learned to change with the times. In the 1920s he discarded his pince-nez eyeglasses, and also gave up his cigar (at the dawn of the motor age these appendages had helped him appeal to the very small, wealthy section of society that had the power to buy a car). The white tires remained, however, as an important visual throwback to his 19th-century origins. When Bibendum was originally sketched out, tires were light in color, and black versions only appeared in 1912 when a preservative, carbon black, was added to the manufacturing process.

By the 1950s he had become a more rotund figure, and was even depicted gaily rolling a tire along the road; a further 20 years on and he had transformed into a true cartoon, in one iteration dancing euphorically beneath the slogan "I’m clinging in the rain." The 21st-century Michelin Man has slimmed down, and is even a touch macho-looking, perhaps in a reaction against Bibendum’s ongoing association with a larger than life existence.

From a Fast Company excerpt from TM: The Untold Stories Behind 29 Classic Logos, on the history of the Michelin Man, nee Bibendum.

The original “road drunkard” version of the Michelin Man seems more suited to represent a company that hands out Michelin stars to high end restaurants than the current version of the logo who looks like more of a fast food lover. And now that tired are black, as noted above, shouldn't the Michelin Man have an inverted color scheme?

April 1898