The Michelin Man wasn’t always so cuddly! People are only just realising how ‘creepy’ the original mascot was

  • The iconic Michelin Man Bibendum had a very different look in the 1920s

The iconic Michelin Man mascot has long been a part of the tyre brand, having first been conceived of in the late 1800s – but it wasn’t always so cuddly.

Pictures of the first tyre mascots have come to light, leaving fans of Bibendum in shock and horrified by the ‘creepy’ figures. 

The Michelin brothers Édouard and André were advertising their tyres at a fair in Lyon when they noticed the pile of rubber rings would look like a person if arms and legs were added.

A few years later the Michelin Man was born – based off of a similar sketch in a German beer advert.

Adapting the image for their own business, the brothers came up with the idea of him ‘swallowing’ up bumps in the road and his name was given: Bibendum, from the Latin phrase ‘Nunc est Bibendum’, now is the time to drink!

But the Bibendum of the early 20th century is far from the one that is known and loved today.

The Bibendum of the early 20th century is far from the one that is known and loved today (Pictured: Bibendum pictured earlier this month in Monza, Italy)

The original mascot design has been described as ‘terrifying’ today after this photo from the 1920s resurfaced online

Old posters advertising Michelin tyres were focused on bicycles and show Bibendum drinking and even smoking cigars

Before cars became common place, the main tyre market was for bicycles, and he was therefore made up of thinner rings, giving him a somewhat alien appearance to a 21st century audience.

In the 1920s the mascot was introduced to much of the public through people dressing up as the Michelin Man – complete with makeshift eye-goggles which completed the costume.

Now social media users have been left horrified by the images of the 1920s Bibendum mascot.

Responding to a picture of two of the mascots, one person joked: ‘Looks like me and the wife after lockdown!’. 

A second added: ‘Looks like one of the ninja turtles that didn’t quite mutate all the way.’

While some labelled the picture as ‘creepy’, ‘absolutely terrifying’ and ‘sinister’, one user just said: ‘This is what I see when someone wears a puffy coat.’ 

Users were also convinced the pictures would haunt them in their nightmares, while one nicknamed ‘Fossildotty’ confessed she had always ‘had a horror of the Michelin Man’ and ‘still finds them creepy’.  

This 1929 photo shows a gathering of Bibendums at the Paris Auto Show, complete with driving goggles and sashes

Before constructing costumes for staff to wear, Michelin made paper balloon-like figures which they then released in the air above Paris in 1904

By the 1970s, the Michelin Men were more similar to the figure we recognise today

Michelin says that their ‘brand ambassador’ was highly popular in the 1920s and 1930s, adding on their website: ‘He immediately became Michelin’s brand ambassador: in promotional campaigns of the early 20th century, people dressed in Michelin Man costumes would hand out little Bibendum dolls to the crowd as goodies. 

‘You can imagine how popular those quickly became.’

But the site also describes the ‘friendly’ mascot who ‘inspired trust and emphasized the comfort provided by Michelin tyres.

READ MORE: Revealed – The real reason behind the iconic Michelin Man logo

Unfortunately many contemporary viewers don’t seem to agree – although one savvy user pointed out they would make great Halloween costumes.

And sure enough, over the years vital changes were made such as ditching the iconic cigar and ending any advertising which showed Bibendum drinking.

He also became much slimmer and transitioned to being made from car tyres, rather than the thinner bicycle ones. 

After the Second World War, the company began selling their own mini mascots that were specifically made to sit on the outside of trucks, and by the 1950s he was considered by many as a ‘guardian angel’.

Helen Tattersall, Head of Vehicle Accessories for Michelin Brand Licensing, said: ‘The Michelin Man embodies our values and reflects our customers, which is why he evolves with them. 

‘He’s also a reminder of the message that comes with using our tyres: no matter the brand of your truck, you’re safe with Michelin.’

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