The Michelin Tyre Co. invented detachable cycle tyres in 1890 and made its first tyre for cars in 1895. Up to 1904 these were made in England by Paul Hardy, Clipper and North British. Trade expansion then caused Michelin to set up its own premises, in Sussex Place. The staff of 17 increased to 163 by 1909 and larger premises became imperative. The result was Michelin House, which still stands in the Fulham Road in Chelsea, a remarkable Edwardian landmark in a London which is becoming dominated by tall office blocks in which secretaries and typists swim behind concrete-bound glass.
Michelin House is well-known to those who buy their tyres there and is worth observing by all who drive along Fulham Road. Fascinatingly archaic in 1963, when new it was regarded as the last word in architecture.
The doors opened automatically when one trod on the mats, the floors were mosaic, incorporating a giant “Bibendum,” and the exterior and interior walls carried fine coloured tiles, by Gilardoni fils of Paris, depicting outstanding racing successes by Michelin-shod cars. The dominant tile in the fitting-bay was of King Edward VII and Prince George, whose cars used Michelin tyres (see centre bottom picture). On the upper floor a big figure of “Bibendum” was lit at night by bluish-grey mercury vapour lamps.
Michelin House is occupied now by the Sales staff. Gone is the illuminated “Bibendum” watching over the building at night, a desk covers his outline on the fitting-bay floor, the ornamental ceiling may soon be removed, and flag masts replace the piles of tyres above the corner pillars. The offices were extended and a second floor added in the ‘twenties. But, praise be, the tiles remain intact, to remind us that Michelin tyres were as well-known in early times as they are today—the illustrations on this page depict some of them, each of a race-winner.
When the S.M.M.T. President opened Michelin House in January 1910 he said:
“We, all of us, know that in regard to our own particular industry— the automobile industry—there is no man who has done more to render it practicable than Mr. Michelin. He was the first man to make tyres for automobiles which were sufficiently reliable to enable the use of them on vehicles to progress. And, although it is undoubtedly true today that there are many other tyre makers who also make excellent tyres, I think I may truly say that Mr. Michelin’s tyre has never been surpassed.”
Many people will find this as true today as it was over half-a-century ago, especially those who know the “X” cover, which Michelin introduced in 1947.—W. B.