According to Michelin’s website, “Back in the late 19th century, in the early days of the company, the Michelin brothers were exhibiting their products at a fair in Lyon when one of them noticed that if you added arms and legs to the pile of tyres they were showcasing, it would look like a man.
A few years later, with the contribution of a caricaturist, the Michelin Man was born. Well, the first version of him. He was actually adapted from a character in an advertisement for a German brewer; in the process, he switched from drinking beer to having the capacity of “swallowing the bumps in the road”, as the early slogan went, to make the ride smoother. That idea is where his name originated: Bibendum, from the Latin phrase “Nunc est Bibendum”, or “now is the time to drink.”
In those days, tyres were white, hence his colour, and as the tyre market was exclusively for bicycles, he was created with an assemblage of narrow tyres.