Character Study: The Michelin Man

Poor Michelin Man. No matter how much he exercises, he’ll never get rid of that spare tire. He’s also getting up there in years. Created by French artist O’Galop way, way back in 1894, he’s actually one of the first known advertising characters in the world, and ranks among the likes of the Quaker Oats Pilgrim and Aunt Jemima as one of the oldest still in use.

Vintage Michelin Man advertising poster, circa 1894Did you know he has a name? It’s Bib. He started out as Bibendum, and in his first incarnation he looked more like a mummy with a monacle than a husky stack of tires. (In 1894, the Michelin brothers primarily sold bicycle tires — hence the thinner-looking rings.) In those days, and this is something Michelin would probably like to forget,— he was a cheerful, wine-guzzling fellow who had a way with women and was known as… The Road Drunkard. (Yes, really.)

During the rise of the automobile, Bib got a motorcar-tire makeover and ditched the drinking, as well as the bourgeoisie eyewear. Now, after more than a century of dedicated service, the Michelin Man is one of the world’s most recognized brand mascots, representing the tire manufacturer in more than 150 countries.

Character Study is an ongoing series featuring background trivia on classic advertising characters.