February 12, 2007

Michelin

And the man behind the brand is...
Edouard Michelin

In 1889 a French cyclist arrived in the workshop of the Michelin et Compagnie rubber works asking for a repair of his punctured Dunlop tire. Edouard Michelin labored for three hours to repair the curious new tire and still the repair didn’t hold. But when he tested it the air-inflated tire gave such a comfortable ride he decided to look for a way to make the troublesome tire practical.

The rubber company, founded by Edouard’s grandfather in the 1830s,
had never made tires. Belts and hoses comprised the product line of the struggling company which was on the verge of disappearing when Andre Michelin took the helm in 1886. Then 33, Andre continued to tend his picture frame and lock business and recruited his younger brother Edouard from fine arts school to help him with the rubber shop. By 1889 a rubber brake pad for horse-drawn vehicles was Michelin’s best seller.

Edouard set to work and by 1891 he had designed a detachable, pneumatic tire that was repairable in only 15 minutes, not hours. The next year it required only two minutes to fix a punctured Michelin tire. In a 1200-kilometer race a Michelin rider endured five punctures and still won by eight hours. The Michelin brothers organized another race and surreptitiously scattered nails across the route.
The unwary riders suffered 244 punctures but proved how easily repairs were made with Michelin tires. In 1893 10,000 Michelins were sold.

In 1894 the Michelin tire was adapted for horse-drawn Parisien cabs.
The improved ride on the five test cabs produced so much extra business other drivers sabotaged the tires. Soon 600 Paris cabs were outfitted with Michelins.

1895 saw Michelin introduce the first pneumatic automobile tire. The Michelin brothers themselves drove Eclair, meaning “forked lightning,” in a June race that year. Only nine of the 19 competitors finished the 1209 kilometer race in the allotted 100 hours. Eclair was one, the first of many Michelin racing triumphs.

Approaching a new century the tire business was intense; France alone sported 150 manufacturers. A strong brand image was crucial and Michelin came up with one of the best of all time. The Michelin Man, a rotund figure composed of tires, bounded onto the advertising scene in 1898.

Another Michelin institution was born in 1900 with the publishing of the first Michelin travel guide, the Guide Rouge. Distributed free, the journey planning advice and hotel listings were liberally spiced with tire information.
By the end of the decade guides were available for Europe, North Africa and Egypt. In 1910 the company published the first road maps of France designed for motorists.

The Michelin brothers were constantly on the lookout for new markets and applications for their tires. The English market opened in 1905, the Italian in
1906 - years later when Michelin became the world’s leading tire manufacturer France would account for less than one sale in six.

The Michelins sponsored an early aviation contest, designing a difficult course culminating with a dangerous landing on a mountain peak in quest of a hefty cash prize. Cynics accused the brothers of setting an impossible task for the sake of publicity, but the prize was won in 1911, on the third anniversary of its creation.

The Michelin commitment to aeronautics continued in World War I.
One hundred bombers for the French air force were supplied free and another 1800 were built at cost. The post-war years brought a surge in motorized traffic and Michelin grew apace. Michelin was in the forefront of road numbering and signposting throughout France.

Andre and Edouard Michelin guided the company, now focused entirely on tires, until they died, Andre in 1931 at the age of 78 and Edouard in 1940 at 81.
The family was torn asunder by the German occupation of france in World War II but emerged with Michelin under family control, as it remains today.

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