Michelin Man turns 100

Bibendum, the inflatable man, goes on a diet and takes weightlifting classes

How does a big, fat, white guy with spare tires wrapped around his torso live to be a hundred? By going on a diet, of course.

1998 is the hundredth birthday of Bibendum&emdash;otherwise known as the Michelin Man&emdash;one of the most recognizable marketing symbols in the world. A unique symbol because he's remained the company's mascot for an entire century&emdash;something that can be said for few companies and even fewer in the automotive world (Witness Mazda's tries in the last ten years), the Michelin Man's official birthday is October 2, 1998.

In the time leading up to the birthday, Michelin plans a bevy of activities for Canadians to join in the fun. A new company logo debuted in December 1997, along with the weight-loss program. Michelin's website, <www.michelin.ca>, takes surfers on a virtual journey through the anniversary, and a special magazine will report on worldwide events, such as the 1998 World Cup, for which Michelins are, of course, the official tires.

Why the new, slimmer shape? Michelin says that it's a "continuation of Bibendum's leadership and represents Groupe Michelin's capacity to adapt itself to different generations' values through technological innovations." In other words, tires have changed, and so has the Michelin Man.

This hasn't been the first time he's been redesigned. In 1923, he lost many of his rings with the introduction of wider, low-pressure tires. In the 1980s, he became slimmer and happier, losing his cigarette, a sign of "happier and healthier living." This year, much of his girth is gone&emdash;perhaps instead of being made of pedestrian LX1s, he's made of high-performance, low-profile Pilots.

Bibendum's story begain in 1894, when Edouard and André Michelin were visting Lyon's International Fair. Upon seeing a tire display, Edouard thought that "with arms and legs, it would be a man." In 1898, an artist submitted posters to the Michelin brothers, including one of a large, round man raising his tankard of beer and toasting. His original phrase, "Nunc est bibendum," latin for "Now is the time to drink" became Michelin's motto with a little editing&emdash;"To your health: the Michelin Tire Swallows Obstacles."

The Michelin Man became synonymous with the company overnight. More than a method to sell tires, he's been used to represent technological innovations such as the invention of the radial tire, and his constant grin has put a face on the conglomerate that operates 21 plants and employs 23,000 people in North America alone.

Michelin makes and sells tires for every kind of vehicle, from bicycles to the space shuttle. Good thing those tires aren't what he's made out of now&emdash;he wouldn't be able to move!

 

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