Larry Edsall / Autoweek
Andre and Edouard Michelin certainly were a remarkable and talented set of brothers.
Andre, born in 1853, was an architect and engineer working in Paris. He drew the first 1:100,000-scale world map for the French Interior Ministry. Edouard, born six years later, took his degree in law but became known as an artist in the City of Lights.
So what prompted these brothers to leave their prestigious positions in Paris to become rubber entrepreneurs smack in the middle of France?
The Michelin museum on Rue Montes-quiev, not far from Michelin world headquarters in Clermont-Ferrand, traces the family's rubber roots to Elizabeth Pugh Barker, a Scot who married Frenchman Edouard Daubree. Barker's uncle was Charles Macintosh, who lent his name to waterproof clothing after discovering a way to soften natural rubber.
After Barker moved to France her husband and his cousin, Aristide Barbier, invented a machine to make rubber balls for children-and later to produce rubber gaskets, valves and tubing. One of those children was Barbier's daughter, Adele.
Adele grew up and married local artist Jules Michelin. They begat Andre and Edouard, who later came home to Clermont-Ferrand to take over the family business and found what would become the world's largest tyre company. The Michelin name first appeared on a rubber brake pad. That was in 1889.
In 1892 a bicycle rider wandered into the Michelin shop with a flat tyre. Repairs required 15 hours total-three for labour and another 12 hours for the glue that secured the tyre to its rim to dry. The Michelin brothers devised a new way to secure a tyre to its rim. To prove the viability of their invention, they organised a bicycle race, scattered nails on the road and showed how quickly they could fix a flat.
In 1895 the Michelins were the first to put pneumatic tyres on a motorcar, their home-built Ã‰clair, which they entered in the Paris-Bordeaux-Paris race to promote their innovation.
The rest, as they say, is history, and the history of Michelin is revealed throughout the two floors of the corporate museum in Clermont-Ferrand. There you can see the original poster of Bibendum, the Michelin man; learn about Michelin's involvement in the early years of aviation; see early Michelin mileposts-the company produced all French road signs until 1970; see photos and models of Michelin-built trains-which ran, of course, on tyres; and view displays of everything from how tyres are made to the latest in Formula One racing technology.
The Michelin museum provides free guided tours-our English-speaking host was knowledgeable and gracious-but tours must be arranged by phoning ahead. Call the museum at (tel. +33 (0)4 73 32 78 44).