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Who is the Michelin Man?

August 10th, 2015
Tires in Roanoke, VA The roly-poly figure of the Michelin Man is one of the most recognizable corporate mascots in the world…but what’s his story? How did he originate? 
 
The Michelin Man, actually called “Bim,” goes all the way back to 1898, almost as far as the Michelin brand itself. In 1894, the Michelin brothers spotted a stack of tires that were reminiscent of a man without arms. A few years later, Andre Michelin met with a French cartoonist who had devised an ad for a Munich brewery: a robust man holding a huge glass of beer, with the phrase “Nunc est Bibendum” or “Now is the time to drink.” Michelin suggested redesigning the ad to include a man made of tires, holding a goblet of nails, broken glass and other debris. The new text read, “Nunc est Bibendum! C’est a’ dire: A’ votre sante: Le pneu Michelin boit l’obstacle!”  A translation of that is, “Now is the time to drink! That is to say, to your health. The Michelin tire drinks up obstacles!” Bim then became the mascot of the company; for the next 15 years, Michelin ads featured Bim declaring his toast at a table, with the latest products in front of him. Beginning in 1908, French food critic Curnonsky took the pen name “Bibendum, on Michelin’s request…and laying the groundwork for the Michelin Travel Guide of later years. 
 
Early ads featuring Bim also included the caricatured faces of competitors John Boyd Dunlop and the chief of Continental Tires, in tattered piles of tires that just weren’t up to the job. Bim wasn’t always so nice, either – early ads had Bim as a gladiator, while competitors’ ads had their mascots driving nails into Bim’s midsection! 
 
You may have wondered why Bim is always white, while tires themselves are black. 
 
Prior to 1912, tires were actually gray-white or beige. It wasn’t until later years that carbon black was added to rubber compounds to preserve and enhance their durability. Bim’s color was changed to black for a short time, but quickly changed back to white again, as the light-colored character was already established. 
 
Early versions of Bim featured pince-nez glasses and a cigar; today, Bim is slimmer, and sometimes even accompanied by a similar-looking puppy. Today, 100-plus years later, Bim is right up there with Mr. Peanut, the Pillsbury Doughboy and the Jolly Green Giant as one of the most beloved corporate mascots anywhere. 
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