Over its long history, France has contributed significantly to industrial and technological advancement, including making the inflatable rubber tire ubiquitous in the world of transportation. Seen on many kinds of wheeled vehicles, including automobiles and trucks, the tire is a vital component without which cars could not operate. It’s also because of the foresight of two 19th Century French brothers, Edouard and Andre Michelin and their namesake company that tires are so commonplace today.
In 1889, the brothers took over a rubber factory in Clermont-Ferrand, France. At the time, the company made farm equipment and rubber balls. It likely would have continued doing so had they not ran into a cyclist whose “pneumatic” or inflatable tire needed repair. In those days, you had to glue a bicycle or automobile tire to the rim of its wheel, and it took almost three hours for the brothers to first remove the tire, repair it, and then re-glue it to the bike wheel’s rim.
Edouard and Andre figured there must be a better way to secure an inflatable tire to a wheel. The duo set out to design and produce a tire and its inner tube that could be “clinched” to a wheel rim, and then inflated. Once they’d incorporated their new tire-making business in May 1889, the brothers developed a working prototype tire that became popular with French competitive cyclists. They bought them up in large numbers.
The French tire makers also saw a chance to corner a market they both felt would grow as automobiles or “horseless carriages” became more widespread. The Michelin brothers subsequently patented their new “clincher” tire design in 1891. That year, French champion cyclist Charles Terront rode a set of the company’s clincher michelin tires to victory at Paris-Brest-Paris, the world’s first long-distance bicycle race. Because of the clincher, Edouard and Andre would continue to see a rapid growth of their business, even operating rubber factories in Vietnam throughout the 1920s and 1930s.
Since its founding back in the late 19th Century, the tire company founded by Edouard and Andre has dominated the European market. It has also acquired or created many subsidiary brands to complement its growth over time. For example, the company opened its first foreign plant in Turin, Italy, in 1906. Since then, it has established plants in other European countries, including in Serbia and Poland. It also produced the world’s first radial tire in 1946, which catapulted the company to worldwide renown.
Today, this French company is the second-largest maker of Michelin tires in the world. From its Clermont-Ferrand headquarters, it operates facilities worldwide, including in North America, Brazil, and Asia. The company’s mascot, Bibendum, is also instantly recognizable the world over. Edouard and Andre created him in 1894 after visiting the Lyon Exposition, and he is one of the world’s oldest trademarks.
The tire isn’t the only product that distinguishes this innovative company and its corporate group. Its world-famous “Red Guides” and “Green Guides” that deliver ratings of hotels, restaurants, and tourism, in general, are frequently treated as holy writ by travelers all over the world. The company also produces a wide variety of paper and online maps, including Africa, Thailand, the United States, France, and Europe.
In the United States, the French tire maker markets premium, performance, and value products. Domestic automakers offer them as original equipment on many of their cars, trucks, and SUVs. The company is also the parent of two longtime and well-known US tire makers, having acquired them both in 1990. Products for the American market are made at the company’s US facilities, just as goods for the South American market come from Brazil, and offerings for Asia from factories located in that region.
In the 21st Century, this most innovative tire company has dedicated itself to what it calls “sustainable mobility.” Its goals include offering a range of services and solutions to help make getting around safe, more efficient, and environmentally friendly. The Michelin Group dedicates itself to growth and market share while at the same time being a helpful corporate presence throughout its global network.