André Jules (1853 - 1931) & Edouard Michelin (1859 – 1940)
From humble beginnings, the brothers Michelin established one of the world’s principal tyre-manufacturing companies, set up a global publishing concern and had the financial strength to sustain one of France’s principal carmaking companies for four decades after it encountered trading difficulties in 1934.
Edouard and André Jules Michelin were born in Clermont Ferrand into a family that owned a business established by their maternal grandfather in 1832, which produced agricultural tools and rubber products, including belts, hoses and balls for children. They took over direction of the company in 1886 and quickly gained a reputation for innovation in the growing cycle and motor car industries. Pneumatic tyres for bicycles were stuck to wheels with adhesive, which made it difficult to repair punctures, but in 1889 Edouard produced a detachable tyre. He patented it in 1891 and in the same year it was publicised during a cycle race from Paris to Brest. It was soon adapted for motor vehicles and the newly-constituted Michelin company sponsored the Éclar, the first car with pneumatic tyres in a race from Paris to Bordeaux in 1895. During the First World War the company produced nearly 2000 aircraft, and in 1916 built what is supposedly the first paved runway for take-offs and landings.
The brothers once saw a stack of tyres from which they gained the idea of using a man made from tyres as a means of advertising their products. From 1898 the man was named Bibendum (from the phrase Nunc est Bibendum: now is the time to drink, from the Odes of Horace). It is now one of the world’s oldest and most successful trademarks.
The publishing activities of André Michelin did much to popularise motoring, and thus to enlarge the demand for tyres. He published his first red Guide Michelin in 1900, set up an office to provide itineraries for motorists in 1908 and in 1910 brought out the first Michelin road maps. After the First World War the scope of the guides increased. The first of the Guides Michelin Régionaux was published in 1926, when its readers were promised ‘Votre voyage sera un enchantment! Vous serez conduit par la main. Votre gout de pittoresque sera satisfait, et vous aurez bonne table et bon gîte’. (‘Your journey will be enchanting. You will be led by the hand. Your yearning for the picturesque will be satisfied and you will have good cuisine and good lodging at night’). Michelin produced red guides which classified hotels and restaurants by means of stars, and green guides that provided guidance to places of interest for tourists.
The company continued to innovate in the 1920s and 30s. In 1929 it produced pneumatic tyres for railway vehicles which were given trials in France and Britain. In 1931 it became an approved manufacturer of road signs and in 1937 it launched Metallic, the first tyres with steel casings. After the Second World War radial tyres were applied to trucks from 1952, earthmovers from 1959, aircraft from 1981 and motor cycles from 1984. In the early twenty-first century the company established by the two brothers from Clermont Ferrand has 68 production plants in 17 countries and employs 112,000 workers.