There is no doubt that the Michelin Tyreman — familiarly known as “Bib” has mellowed with the passage of time. One must admit that in his very early days, over fifty years ago, he was a slightly intimidating apparition, reminiscent of some strange, gigantic visitant from another planet. It was later that he began gradually to develop the rotundity, as well as the geniality and ever-youthful zest, of a 20th century Pickwick.
As a matter of historical fact we find that, far from being of Martian origin, “Bib was actually the outcome of the creative vision of two men, Andre and Edouard Michelin. It was Edouard who was struck by the almost human look of a pile of assorted tyres on the Michelin stand at the Lyons Exhibition of 1898 and remarked to his brother, “If he had arms he would look like a man.” And it was Andre who, while being shown some sketches by an artist, O’Galop by name, noticed one of a Bacchic figure holding aloft a glass of beer and crying Nunc est bibendum! Association of ideas suddenly linked the fat beer drinker with the half-human silhouette of the pile of tyres seen at Lyons, Bacchus was dismounted in favour of a swollen figure composed of tyres, an unappetising draught of nails and glass splinters replaced the beer and Nunc cat bibendum! was elaborated by adding the slogan “The Michelin Tyre drinks the obstacle!”
So it was that “Bib” was born and, indeed, baptised; for the word “Bibendum” attracted attention and was soon being used as the name of the Tyreman. “Bib,” for short, followed inevitably.
Since that first Michelin poster was printed fifty-five years ago it is safe to say that “Bib” has been a feature of every single piece of publicity or literature sponsored or produced by Michelin. He has thereby achieved world-wide recognition and has more than once been borrowed by cartoonists — a very sure sign of fame. He has been an animated figure on innumerable display stands. He has been filmed. Rubber dolls have been made in his likeness. At sports meetings, dances, concerts, carnivals, even at bull fights, long-suffering gentlemen encased in Bibendum costumes have made sensational appearances. For all forms of advertising his merits are manifold. The public find him likeable and amusing. Obviously he has a sense of humour and will do his utmost to give an air of lightheartedness to the most arid and technical aspects of tyres. Above all, he is adaptable — a quick change artist if ever there was one. Unencumbered by clothes that might identify him with some particular period, nationality or class, he can, merely by a change of headgear, be an English farmer one minute and a Choctaw Indian in the next, should so startling a transformation ever be required of him.
In spite of his habitual joviality he can look the picture of misery or, indeed, of any other emotion. He engages with the utmost readiness in any activity known to the human race. He makes an eminently bonny baby and with a little ingenuity he can even do female impersonations, although it must be confessed that the “Bibendum” silhouette and “the female form divine” could hardly have less in common.
As mentioned earlier, “Bib’s” normal outward aspect has gradually altered since 1898. He was formerly made up of a large number of “thin” high-pressure tyres but when pressures began to be lowered he naturally changed into a more up-to-date dress consisting of fewer but “fatter” tyres. It may be supposed that his appearance has now been stabilised for all time. It is at least certain that, as long as Michelin tyres are made, the indefatigable “Bib” will continue to illustrate their admirable qualities and will remain one of Michelin’s valuable assets.