Helping early automakers gain traction
Brothers André and Édouard Michelin revolutionized tire technology. André, the eldest of the brothers, was born in 1853 in Paris, France. His younger brother Édouard was born six years later in 1859 in Clermont-Ferrand, France. Both brothers had aspirations of embarking on their own careers. André was a renowned engineer and Édouard showed great promise as an artist.
However, by the late 1880’s, both brothers decided to return to Clermont-Ferrand to revive their grandfather’s failing agricultural equipment company. The company, Michelin et Cie, had been in business since 1832 selling farm implements as well as vulcanized rubber products and was on the brink of bankruptcy. André assumed control of the company and later asked Édouard to join him as managing director. The brothers renamed the firm Michelin and Co. Édouard oversaw manufacturing and research operations while André was responsible for management and sales. The brothers knew that in order to save the family company, they needed to diversify their business. However, neither one had the faintest idea where to start until they were approached by a cyclist in 1889.
The cyclist had gotten a flat tire, a very common occurrence given road conditions of the day, and asked if the brothers could devise a better method to repair it. The common practice for mounting tires at the time was to glue them solidly to the rim. This made replacing them a lengthy ordeal that required special tools. Édouard believed there must be a better and faster way to attach a tire to a wheel, and developed several prototypes and concepts. In 1891, he was granted a patent for a detachable-pneumatic tire. Michelin’s invention was a substantial improvement on John Dunlop’s invention, and became instantly popular. The brothers soon realized that even greater growth was possible by adapting their invention to automobiles. In 1895, the brothers entered the Paris-Bordeaux-Paris automobile race using their tires. They finished last, but the tires were so impressive that the race virtually launched the market for detachable-pneumatic automobile tires.
The Michelin Brothers’ soon became leading tire suppliers to the fledgling automotive industry, and even today Michelin is one of the largest and most respected tire suppliers in the world.