As part of a yearlong celebration of its 100th anniversary, a redesigned version of the Michelin Man–the corporate symbol of one of the world’s largest tire manufacturers, makes an appearance at the Monterey Historic Automobile Races in Monterey, California, beginning on this day in 1998.
The history of Michelin dates back to 1889, when two brothers named Edouard and Andre Michelin took over a struggling rubber factory in the French industrial city of Clermont-Ferrand. The Michelins later became France’s leading producer of pneumatic (inflatable) bicycle tires, and in June 1895 they entered the first car to be equipped with pneumatic tires in the historic Paris-Bordeaux-Paris auto race.
As the story goes, their now-iconic corporate symbol originated with Edouard Michelin’s observation that a stack of tires resembled a human figure. A cartoonist named Maurice Rossillon, who signed his work O’Galop, created a series of sketches based on this idea. One depicted a man made of tires raising a glass of champagne and declaring “Nunc est bibendum” (“Now is the time to drink”). The figure’s white color mirrored the pale hue of rubber tires at the time, before manufacturers began using carbon black as a preservative around 1912. The symbol subsequently became known as Bibendum (sometimes Bibidendum or Mr. Bib), or the Michelin Man.
The original poster, produced from 1898 to 1914, was followed by a variety of other posters and signs featuring Bibendum smoking a cigar, wearing gladiator garb, riding a bicycle and carrying a load of tires, among other activities. Ubiquitous in France, the logo’s fame spread along with the popularity and success of Michelin tires around the world. In 1923, the Michelin Man was redesigned, losing some of his rings to reflect the introduction of wider, low-pressure tires. During the 1980s, he grew slimmer to conform to the healthy-living trend, a process that continued with the 1998 redesign. By that time, Bibendum was one of the oldest and most recognized advertising symbols in the world.
On January 1, 1998, the Michelin Man kicked off his centennial celebration by appearing on his own birthday float at the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California. The Monterey Historic Automobile Races, held at the Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey that August 14-16, welcomed the Michelin Man as part of its own 25th anniversary celebration. Two years later, an international jury of 22 designers, advertising executives and branding experts voted Bibendum the winner of a competition co-sponsored by The Financial Times, proclaiming him the “greatest logo in history.”