Bibendum – The Larger Than Life Michelin Man

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  •   A 1914  postcard offering this image as a 21 x 29-inch poster for ten cents

By Matthew Hocker:

Bibendum is Michelin’s metaphorical superhero and, like any comic book character, he comes with a fascinating origin story. In 1889, French brothers Andre and Edouard Michelin set out to work on what would become the first detachable pneumatic tires. Up until that point, replacement of tires was complicated and time consuming.  In fact the brother’s quest was inspired by the replacement of a customer’s inflated Dunlop bicycle tire, which had been held in place by glue.

mich4Their invention made its public debut in 1891 when the tires were used in the Paris-Brest roundtrip bike race.  The brothers viewed the event as an opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of detachable tires, and their sponsored biker Charles Terron delivered on that promise.  At one point, he punctured a tire and lost the lead but still managed to emerge in first place.  When interviewed, he attributed his victory to Michelin’s tires, claiming they were easy to remove and repair.

For a time, Terron served as Michelin’s spokesman but Andre and Edouard sought a unique way of promoting their product. An epiphany struck Edouard at the 1894 Universal and Colonial Exhibition in Lyon, France. The entrance to the Michelin stand was flanked by two piles of tires, the shape of which Edouard noted to be almost humanlike in appearance.

Soon after this chance encounter, the Michelin brothers were approached by the graphic artist O’Galup. The image he presented was a plump likeness of Gambrinus, the legendary icon of beer brewing. Beer in hand, the figure exclaimed “Nun est bibendum!” (Latin for “Now is the time to drink.”)  The Munich brewery O’Galup originally crafted the design for rejected the idea, but Andre and Edouard were intrigued.

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  •                   January 8, 1921 “Saturday Evening Post” advertisement

With the brothers’ blessings, O’Galup set out to design Michelin’s mascot, finishing the first advertising posters in 1898.  The result was a fusion between O’Galup and Edouard’s ideas; the mascot was comprised of stacked tires and retained the rotund figure of Gambrinus. O’Galop also ran with the alcohol theme, depicting the Michelin Man raising a toast of broken glass and nails, all while withered looking tire people representing competitors looked on helplessly. The Latin phrase remained intact, with the addition of the motto, “the tire that drinks up obstacles.” After going public, the Latin phrase was frequently associated with the character, and Bibendum became his adopted name.

mich5Like his physical appearance, Bibendum’s public persona was larger than life. He was a prominent figure at auto shows and parades, with Michelin employees donning puffy character suits.  By 1927, Michelin was interested in marketing the character beyond the sale of tires, and he began appearing on stationary, maps, and automotive gauges. Candy confectioner Tobler even made a chocolate Bibendum! Michelin ceased manufacturing accessories in 1930 because companies with similar products felt they were facing unfair competition and threatened to boycott Michelin tires.

In addition to his visual presence, Bibendum served as the voice of the company. An example of this was Michelin Instruction Plates, a 24 page tire maintenance and troubleshooting guide published in 1913. Bibendum was listed as the editor and signed the forward, “yours pneumatically.” His figure dominated the cover illustration, in which he was seen providing a demonstration to a massive crowd.

The Bibendum of early advertisements was vastly different from the form we recognizemich7 today. Prominent features included a big belly, human hands, glasses, and a lit cigar. It’s also worth mentioning Bibendum’s appearance was less restricted than it is today. Contracts with several different artists contributed to a diverse range of interpretations of the character. Michelin’s expanse into foreign markets also gave way to regional variations. His image became more standardized when Michelin’s artwork was done in-house by the 1930s.

Bibendum’s looks continued to change with the passage of time. As the tire titan entered the roaring twenties, the width of the rings on his body expanded, and his hands became whiteHis glasses eventually morphed into large round eyes, reminiscent of the then-up-and-coming animated characters like Mickey Mouse.

Bibendum must have also had an intervention because he no longer drank and, with the exception of the occasional relapse, gave up smoking by 1929. In fact, he became more interested in physical fitness. A 1925 poster featured Bibendum running alongside a tire, an image that was to later become a long-standing emblem for the company. This “exercise” paid off, as he is considerably thinner today.

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  •                        The cover for the 1913 Michelin “Instruction Plates”

In a world where trends come and go Bibendum has stood the test of time, having remained an industry superstar for over a century. To learn more about this legendary mascot, be sure to stop by the library or give us a call. We have a collection of early advertisements, more than 35 Michelin brochures and catalogs and the book The Michelin Man: 100 Years of Bibendum, which offers a comprehensive history of the character. We would also be interested in acquiring additional Michelin material to fill in the gaps within our collection. Contact us at the AACA Library.

Editors note: Matthew Kocker Assistant Librarian at the AACA Library wrote this piece on one of our favorite early advertising symbol’s, Bibendum. You can take a look back here on our earlier coverage of him and Michelin Tires here.

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The Globe of Death – Going Round and Round and Up and Down

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  • The Mendoza’s Globe of Fate motorcycle and bicycle act

A little over a week ago on The Sunday Edition we featured a Wall of Death thrill show film. Geoff, a reader from Australia commented on it and told us of the Durkin Brothers Globe of Death show that traveled the Down Under entertainment circuit for over 20 years. In many of these acts as seen above, riders loop vertically as well as horizontally in a globe while traveling at speed on motorcycles.

We decided to investigate a little further and found that in March of 1904, Arthur Rosenthal, a bicycle stuntman of Grand Rapids, Michigan, filed a patent application for certain new and useful improvements in bicyclists globes. His patent for a Bicyclist’s Globe was granted quickly on May 3, 1904, and the patent drawing for it can be seen below.

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  • Arthur Rosenthal’s 1904 patent drawing for a Bicyclist’s Globe

From what we were able to piece together from period bicycle magazines and other sources, Rosenthal and his partner, Frank Lemon, performed routines of skill and nerve guaranteed to deliver laughs and roars at fairs, amusement parks, and in shows across the land. The pair soon turned to motorcycles and the act became known as the Globe of Death. 

We found references to many other performers with similar globes and acts starting in the early teens including Guido Consi, an Italian daredevil, who introduced his Sphere of Fear in 1913 during a circus performance in Rome. An German engineer, also built and operated a globe act prior to World War I.

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  • Two early Globe of Death acts can be seen on the left and center above. The Durkin Brothers act of Australia can be seen above right in the mid-1940s

Cedero and his Golden Globe arrived in New York City in 1915, the first of several Brazilian globes and globe riders to travel to the United States. His act was performed at carnivals and circuses here in the U.S. until leaving for a tour of Central and South America in 1940. Between the two World Wars, the popular Globe of Death shows enjoyed the greatest popularity in Brazil.

Below is a more recent 1950s video of a news film clip of a Globe of Death act, filmed at Palisades Park in New Jersey, courtesy of Buyout Footage. This short presentation will show you just how exciting one of these acts can be. The photos above are courtesy of The Globe of Death Chronicles, and The McWhirters Project.

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Posted in Motorcycle photos, Out Of The Box, video | Tagged , , , , , , |

Studebaker Touring Car and Electric Truck Postcards

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  • An Actress using a Studebaker Touring car as a dressing room circa 1908

Automotive advertising collector Alden Jewell came across this pair of Studebaker postcards and would like to know: “Who the leading actress was who used this car as a dressing room”? The pair of cards have been dated 1910, but we believe that the car above may date back to 1908 based on its design and the shape of its radiator and front fender.

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  • 1907 and 1908 Studebaker details in period magazine articles

Studebaker bought the chassis for its first gasoline cars starting in 1903 from the Garford Company of Elyria, Ohio, and later took control of the company and continued a relationship with it through the 1911 model year. The car on the postcard appears to be a 1908 Studebaker Model B 40 h.p. Touring Car as seen in the Motor magazine ad above right. In addition to the gas cars, the automaker also built a complete line of electric cars and trucks between the years of 1902 and 1912.

The article on the left and center above from the Horseless Age, March 1907 issue describes the 28-32 h.p. car that was similar to the 1908 model. On the above right is an ad from the November 1907, Motor showing the 1908 models that were available.

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  • A circa 1910 Five-Ton Studebaker Electric Truck

The Studebaker Electric Truck postcard above shows an injured elephant that was named either Maude or Mille. She is seen with a bandaged left front leg and the text on the card tells how the truck was being used as an ambulance to take her to a vet. The article on the left and center below from the May 1908, Auto Trade Journal, shows and describes an identical five-ton truck and a smaller U.S. Navy ambulance.

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  • Studebaker and Garford Electric Truck details in period magazine articles

Interestingly on the right above is an ad found in the January 11, 1908, Automobile Topics showing the Garford Light Electric Wagon; it is quite similar to the smaller Studebaker unit, which may indicate that Garford might have used the Studebaker chassis for its truck?

More Studebaker Electric and Garford photos and information can be found at the History of the Studebaker Corporation. Postcard images courtesy of Alden Jewell.

Posted in Auto photos 1885 - 1920, Trucks, Buses and Equipment | Tagged , , , , , |