Happy Birthday

andre jules michelin

Happy Birthday, André Michelin, Tire and Guidebook Magnate

January 16, 2010
by Isabel Cowles
With his brother’s help, André Michelin made his family’s struggling rubber business a success by manufacturing innovative bicycle and automobile tires. To supplement their business, Michelin created road guides for French motorists, which became the famed Michelin Guides. The company’s logo, the Michelin Man, remains among the most widely recognized corporate symbols.

Early Days

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André Jules Michelin was born on January 16, 1853, in Paris, France. In 1886, he took charge of J. G. Bideau & Co., his family’s rubber and farm equipment manufacturing business. He enlisted his younger brother Édouard to help and renamed it Compagnie Générale des Établissements Michelin.

Neither brother knew much about the rubber business: André was an engineer with his own firm in Paris. Édouard had just earned a degree in Fine Arts and intended to become a painter.

One afternoon, an incident forever changed the direction of the Michelins’ business: a bicyclist rode into the shop with a deflated pneumatic tire. Inflatable tires were a recent development, and at the time, they required extensive labor to fix and reinflate, as they were glued to the wheel rims. The Michelin brothers created a process by which the tires could be removed, repaired and reattached with ease.

Notable Accomplishments

After successfully engineering a new bicycle tire, the Michelin brothers began designing similar tires for carriages and cars. The Michelins quickly recognized the power of smart marketing: they attached a sign bearing the company name on a horseless carriage whose wheels they’d manufactured.

In 1898, the Michelin brothers developed a logo that would define their brand for more than a century: the Michelin Man, also known as  “Bibendum,” whose name translates roughly from Latin as, “drinking to be done.” The moniker was derived from a comment André once made to the Paris Society of Civil Engineers that pneumatic tires could “drink up obstacles.”

Bibendum was officially conceived when Édouard Michelin noticed that a pile of tires resembled a human body. The brothers attached limbs and a face to the illustrated figure and created a mascot who would come to represent friendly service and automotive knowledge worldwide.

André Michelin went on to expand the business by developing guides for French motorists, free booklets that offered information on gas stations, garages, restrooms, hotels and restaurants.

People particularly liked the dining section of the guides, so Michelin expanded its offerings. He hired critics to anonymously visit restaurants and rate them.

The Rest of the Story

André Michelin died on April 4, 1931, of lung failure. However, as the founder of one of the most enduring corporate symbols and services, his legacy and name survive. Today, Michelin products include a variety of tires as well as a selection of constantly updated paper and online guides for motorists, diners and travelers.

The Michelin dining guides have become the gold standard for restaurant reviews. The most lauded chefs in the world vie to earn the coveted Michelin stars—earning even one of three is considered a great achievement.

Michelin inspectors are rigorous in their investigation: they visit restaurants that have been awarded stars every 18 months to ensure the quality of the service. Inspectors are required to write a lengthy report on each meal and work three weeks out of four, eating at a different restaurant each day.
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