Do You Know The Michelin Man's Name?

September 25, 2023 | Jamie Hayes

Do You Know The Michelin Man's Name?

The Michelin Man actually has a name. It’s Bibendum, which means “to drink” in Latin. Now, why is a company that makes car tires encouraging people to drink? Well, it’s a funny story.

Bibendum is one of the world’s oldest active trademarks, dating all the way back to the 19th century. In 1894, the Michelin brothers brought their tires to the Lyon Exhibition. They filled their stand with stacks of their product, and the elder brother André noticed that the stacks looked a little like a person. That gave him an idea.

Four years later, André met with a popular French cartoonist, Marius Rossillon, to make his dream a reality. Rossillon came prepared with a rejected mascot he’d designed for a German brewery: A hefty figure raising a large beer and proclaiming “Nunc est bibendum” ("Now is the time for drinking"), a Latin phrase from Horace’s Odes.

Poster with Mr Bibendum advertising Michelin tyres. The famous Michelin Man holds up a glass full of sharp objects which hold no fear for Michelin tyres. Tyre X and tyre Y look on enviously as Mr Bibendum proposes a toast; 'To Your Health; the Michelin tyre drinks obstacles'. (Photo by National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images)National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

OK, not exactly the perfect slogan for a tire company, but apparently, André Michelin liked it. He just had one note: Have the man be made of tires. And just like that, the Michelin Man was born.

But, for whatever reason, that slogan for the brewery just stuck. In 1898, Rossillon made the ad with only a slight modification to his original text. It reads: "Now is the time to drink!! Which is to say: 'To your health, the Michelin tire drinks down the obstacle[s]!'"

And in the center is our friend Bibendum, raising a glass of nails and broken glass (the kind of thing Michelin tires “drink up”), while his competitors’ inferior tires wilt off to the sides.

If it doesn’t make sense to you, well, too bad: It made perfect sense to the Michelin brothers, and now, over a century later, the Michelin Man’s name remains Bibendum. Just don’t tell MADD.

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