This thesis is the result of ten years of research of one of the best connoisseurs of the Michelin Company’s graphic history. Over the last 20 years, Dr Pau Medrano Bigas (Barcelona, 1965) has been a graphic designer and art director at advertising agencies and publishing companies in Spain. In recent years he has combined his work as a freelancer with his role as a Professor of the four-year Bachelor’s Degree at the University of Barcelona.
During the first decade of the 20th century, the Michelin tire factory began a process of internationalization. Subsidiaries were established in the heart of the main markets: those of the UK (London from 1905), Italy (with a factory in Turin, active from 1907) and finally in the United States (in Milltown, New Jersey, in operation from 1908).
The firm’s efforts within the advertising field are an integral part of the European history of graphic design and poster art, also contributing to the fame of those artists who started the movement. This was particularly so in the case of the company’s mascot Bibendum, which, more than a century after his creation in 1898, is still the company’s iconic symbol. But if the Michelin Company’s history in France is well known, the researchers are very interested in the company’s almost 24 year presence in the United States (1907-1930), particularly the strategies developed in the field of advertising and graphics that have been completely ignored up to now.
What were the main features of this advertising strategy and how did it differ from those that were being used by the firm in Europe at the time? To answer this question, this research work first aims to reconstruct the history of American business and its links with the parent policies. To analyze these advertising strategies, the author needed to have in-depth knowledge of the reality of cultural norms, historical events, social, technological developments and commercial competition. Collecting, classifying and analyzing these advertising campaigns have helped with the understanding of the contributions of different directives, advertising agents, art directors, designers, illustrators and graphic artists who participated in the creative process of those elements which forged the identity of the company.
The author shows how the managers had to deal with American behavioral patterns to successfully adapt their advertising campaigns. Therefore this thesis research goes beyond a study of Michelin advertising graphics or strategies. For the first time the history of Michelin’s early presence in North America is established, addressing both social and economic issues.
It also provides extensive information on Michelin’s competitors in Europe (like Dunlop, Continental, Pirelli, Bergougnan, Prowodnik, Goodrich and many others). For some companies like Bergougnan, the other giant from Clermont-Ferrand, the French rubber capital, this is the first study that provides information on the history of a company that has been, and still remains, forgotten by researchers.
STRUCTURE OF THE THESIS ACROSS FOUR VOLUMES
The first volume, in addition to the statement of sources and the bibliography, reflects on the importance of advertising mascots in the early twentieth century in Europe and, especially, the United States, before an in-depth study of the origins of the Bibendum mascot.
The 2nd volume returns to the origins of the the industry in New Jersey and the birth of the American Michelin factory in the city of Milltown. The author details the factory’s activity and portrays the personal and professional profile of Jules Hauvette-Michelin, a member of the Michelin family who was sent from France to act as Vice-President of the business. The importance of paternalistic structures put in place by Michelin (building housing for employees, sports associations) is well understood. The author undertakes the significant work of cross-checking information on men, staffing, economic results, advertising budgets, providing completely new information to better understand the importance of this implementation. The Michelin patriotic commitment during World War It is presented as central to the success of the Company, while the author makes broad comparisons based on a vast inventory of patriotic campaigns launched by Michelin and its competitors, in the United States first, but also in France, England, Italy and Germany.
The 3rd volume attempts to describe the American Michelin advertising strategies in the United States but also creates a portrait of the three advertising illustrators that contributed to the success of the firm’s campaigns.
The 4th and final volume is a detailed study of the advertising campaigns of Michelin’s competitors in the United States during the years between 1900 and 1930.
Each chapter consists of a written section followed by content developed around illustrations that are indispensable to gaining a global understanding of the work.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CONTENT IN TEXT AND IMAGES
This body of research is not a classic thesis in the sense that it was designed and written by an author who originally is neither a scientist nor an academic. But he relied on his skills and experience of graphic and creative design strategies to understand the creative process and visual language used by his predecessors to develop this advertising universe, based on the use of characters, mascots and specific graphical and typographical rules to express ideas and formalize concepts graphically. The author analyzed and examined hundreds of images to then be able to select and integrate those chosen in the body of the thesis, in a perfectly coherent way.
This work brings together over 4400 illustrations, reproduced as they were originally published, most of them in full color, and printed in high definition. Nearly 90% of these images (old posters, advertisements, postcards, original photos, maps, etc.) are unknown, having been rescued from their original sources and from private collections.
In addition to the depth of content, the graphical richness of the images displayed, the quality of reproduction and the layout, are in themselves an exceptional collection for anyone interested in the history of the Michelin Company and the spirit of innovation that its employees and managers were able to demonstrate during these years. But what is also fully described here is the history of the design and advertising in the tire industry in the United States and in Europe, a central industry, inextricably linked to that of the automobile.
Dr Pau Medrano Bigas’ work is key to understanding the early years of the development of the tire industry within a cultural and social context.
The thesis is available for viewing and downloading on the University of Barcelona website (http://www.tdx.cat/handle/10803/299194). For copyright reasons images are blurred in the digital documents. To access the pages with high definiton images, refer to the paper version. At the moment, there is no copy in any American library.
Contact Dr Pau Medrano Bigas at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Previously responsible for the library collection on the Michelin company at Bibliothèque du Patrimoine (Clermont Communauté) Clermont-Ferran, France. Author of several studies on the social history of Michelin and a complete bibliography of the history of the Michelin Company (over 600 references).