Michelin - The History of Rubber Tyres

Published: 24th February 2009
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In 1829 the use of rubber in manufacturing is born in the Auvergne region of France by the marriage of Edouard Daubree to Elizabeth Pugh Barker. Pugh Barker was the niece of the Scottish chemist Charles Macintosh, the inventor of rubberised waterproof fabric and the eponymous macintosh.

In 1829, armed with this knowledge, Elizabeth introduces rubber into the Auvergne region of France by making, by hand, play balls for children. Edouards invention of a machine which makes rubber balls enables him, with his cousin Aristide Barbier, to open up a factory in 1832 which also makes farm machinery. They quickly start developing rubber tubes, gaskets and valves for use in industrial applications. The company continues to develop over the next 30 years until in 1863 the founders set up a limited company, E. Daubree & Co. which becomes J.G. Bideau & Co. in 1868.

The brothers Edouard and Andre Michelin take control of the company in 1889, the start of the famous Michelin tyre dynasty as Michelin & Co. is born,. or to give it its full French title 'Manufacture Francaise des Pneumatics Michelin'. The brothers are the first to produce the "removable" pneumatic tyre, a major development as the pneumatic tyres available up until this time had to be glued to the wheel rim and took hours to remove. To publicise their new tyre Michelin organise a cycle race between Paris and Clermont Ferrand in 1891. During the race the brothers scatter nails along the route to prove that a flat tyre can now be easily and speedily repaired.

The company now concentrates on the development of pneumatic car tyres and in 1895 Edouard and Andre build and drive 'The Éclair', the first car to run on pneumatic tyres, in the Paris-Bordeaux-Paris race. The famous Michelin Man character is conceived in 1894 after Edouard notes the similarity of a pile of tyres at the entrance to the Michelin stand at the Universal and Colonial exhibition in Lyon to the body and head of a man. Andre takes this idea and commissions the illustrator O'Galop to develop the character and so give birth to the instantly recognisable tyre man. The character is also known a Bibendum after the first poster using his image carried the logo 'nunc est bibendem', a Latin phrase meaning 'it's time to drink' which makes more sense when read with the rest of the words on the poster, which translate as 'That is to say, to your health: The Michelin tyre drinks up obstacles'.

In 1899, Michelin tyres are used on the first electrically powered car to break the 100km per hour barrier.

The first Michelin red guide to hotels and restaurants appears in 1900 and quickly gains a reputation as a reliable source of reference. Today, the guides cover 17 different locations and are recognised as the best hotel and restaurant guides in the world. The famous Michelin star symbols of recommendation (introduced in 1926) have become the benchmark against which all restaurants are graded and any top chef is adjudged by the number of stars (or not) he has achieved.

In 1905 Michelin invent the 'Michelin Sole' incorporating studs to improve grip, a feature particularly relevant to the sometimes icy conditions found in the mountainous Auvergne region. The Michelin Tyre Company Ltd. is founded in London in 1906. The company now expands outside France for the first time with the opening of a plant in Turin followed by their first plant outside Europe in New Jersey in the United States.

It is 1910 and Michelin distributes 30,000 street name plates around France to tie in with the launch of its first of its now legendary road maps.

Michelins interest in aviation begins in 1908 with the Michelin Grand Prix, setting a challenge to aviators to fly between Paris and Clermont Ferrand. This is achieved for the first time in 1911 by Renaux and Senouque. The company is heavily involved in aviation during the First World War as Michelin builds over 1800 war planes at its main Clermont Ferrand plant. In 1916 the first ever concrete runway, built at Clermont Ferrands Aulnat airport, enables aircraft to take off and land in all weathers for the first time.

Tyre development continues after the war and in 1923 the first low pressure passenger tyre, the 'Confort' is introduced, capable of distances of up to 15,000 km's. In 1932 this is succeeded by an even lower pressure tyre, the "Super Confort", which is capable of 30,000km before replacement.

The predecessor of the current Michelin Green Guides is published as a regional tourist guide to Brittany in 1926. Today, like the red guides, the green guides are published worldwide and are a highly respected source of information for many of the world's major tourist destinations.

The Michelin Empire expands in the 1920's with the first plant in the UK at Stoke on Trent and a second plant in Italy in Trente. They purchase several thousand acres in Indochina to open their own rubber plantations. The Clermont plant now employs over 10,000 people over three sites.

In 1935 Michelin take control of Citroen cars. At this time the company begins its development of a new type of vehicle, the 'TPV' or 'Tout Petite Vehicule' which will later develop into the first 2CV, introduced at the 1948 Paris motor show. Michelin sells its shares in Citroen to Peugeot in 1974.

Over the next few decades Michelin continues its innovations in tyre technology with many new developments including tyres for trains, an early tyre incorporating an inner tube, an anti-skid tyre appropriately christened the 'Stop' tyre, steel rimmed tyres for trucks and perhaps its most significant invention, the radial tyre, first patented in 1946. This is a revolution in tyre development, as the radial tyre reduces road friction and thus provides improved fuel economy. Today, the radial tyre is the industry standard for all motor vehicles. The Michelin Group grows on the back of its successful technological developments and by 1966 employ 81,000 people worldwide.

In 1977 Michelin introduce radial tyre technology to Formula One racing with the Renault team. The first major success comes in 1979 with Michelin radials partnering Ferrari engineering to the world championship. Michelin tyres also supply the world champions in 1981, 1983 and 1984. Since then the company's involvement in Formula One has not been constant, withdrawing in 1984 for a period of 17 years before returning with several teams in 2001. Michelin tyres dominate the 2005 and 2006 seasons winning with Fernando Alonso's Renault team. Michelin tyres also win the 2005 World rally Championship and GP Moto World Championship titles. After the 2006 season Michelin withdraw for the second time from Formula One after several disputes with the sports governing body.

The 1980's sees a period of rapid worldwide expansion for the Michelin Group with new plants opening in Brazil, the USA, Canada, Asia and Japan. They also acquire the Uniroyal-Goodrich tyre company in North America.

A new tyre manufacturing process is invented in 1993 called C3M prompting the development of new plants in Clermont Ferrand, China, Sweden and the USA. Another significant development is the PAX system in 1998 which enables even punctured tyres to run safely.

In 2000 the Bibendum character, now 102 years old is voted the 'worlds best logo' by an independent panel of advertising professionals.

This century has seen no let up in the development of new tyre technology with many ground breaking inventions in the world of aviation, agriculture and civil engineering as well as in the domestic car sector. This rich history of innovation and developments in the tyre industry which continues today is testament to the vision and skill of the company's founders and demonstrates why Michelin remains one of the worlds leading brands.


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