The MICHELIN Guide: 100 editions and over a century of history

02-03-2009

"This Guide was born with the century, and it will last every bit as long", said the Michelin brothers, André and Edouard, in the preface to the first ever Michelin Guide, published in 1900. 109 years later, the Michelin Guide remains THE reference for the restaurant and hotel world.
 
Available today in 14 editions covering 23 countries and sold in nearly 90 countries, the Michelin Guide has always kept pace with the years, centuries, eras and trends.


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1900: the first Michelin Guide is born
 
In 1900, fewer than 3000 motor cars roamed the roads of France. Any journey could easily turn into quite an adventure!
 
Nevertheless, the Michelin brothers’ faith in the future of the motor car was absolute. To encourage the development of the industry, and consequently, the demand for tyres and other Michelin products, the brothers decided to offer motorists a document which would facilitate their travels, a small guide to improve mobility... Over a century later, this founding principal is the common denominator for all of the different Michelin publications (atlases, maps, guides, etc.).
 
The first edition of the Michelin Guide saw the light of day in August 1900 with nearly 35,000 copies printed … 
This Guide, handed out at no charge to motorists, held an array of practical information and tips, such as how to use and repair tyres, where to find hotels and petrol stations, maps, and a list of mechanics - as there were fewer than 600 of them in all of France at the time.
In 1904, a first guide was published outside of France: the Michelin Guide Belgium

1908: creation of the Bureau of Itineraries, internet before its time!

 
In 1908, the Bureau of Itineraries was created. The Bureau was, in many ways, internet before its time!
 
Located in the old Michelin offices, 99, Boulevard Pereire in Paris’s 17th arrondissement, this bureau provided motorists with a travel plan free of charge, on simple demand.
 
The number of requests handled by the Bureau of Itineraries quickly skyrocketed from 19,000 in 1921 to 155,000 in 1925.
 
 


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1920:  the Michelin Guide has a price
 
 
In 1920, as the story goes, André Michelin paid a visit to a tyre merchant and noticed, to his dismay, that Guides were being used to prop up a workbench.
 
That did it. He immediately decided that from then on the Guides would be sold, because, as the Michelin Brothers put it, ‘Man only truly respects what he pays for!’
The same year, restaurants began to be listed according to specific classification guidelines.
 
Moreover, advertisements were removed and, for the first time, a list of Parisian hotels was provided.
 
In 1921, there was no annual Michelin Guide France . Michelin’s Parisian offices (which were located 105, Boulevard Pereire in the 17th arrondissement at the time) were too busy preparing their ‘Guides to the Battlefields’.
 
In 1922, the Guide sold for 7 francs.


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1926-1936: Birth of a star? Of stars!
 
In 1926, the first fine dining star was born; in 1931 the second and thirdstars came into existence, beginning with the provinces and followed in 1933 by Paris. As for their criteria (one star: ‘a very good restaurant in its own category’; two stars: ‘excellent cooking, worth a detour’; and three stars: ‘exceptional cuisine, worth a special trip’), they date from 1936… and haven’t changed since. Amongst the very first three-star restaurants were Eugénie Brazier and Marie Bourgeois, Fernand Point (one of the first chefs to greet customers in the dining room), André Terrail, Joseph Barattero, Francis Carton and François Pernollet.
A tip of the toque to Paul Bocuse and his restaurant, the Auberge du Pont de Collonges at Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or near Lyon: three stars every year since 1965!
 
In 1929, for the first time, a satisfactionquestionnaire was included with the guide, inviting readers to comment on the choice of establishments. Today, over 45,000 letters and emails are sent to the Michelin Guide bureau each year from some of the million readers of the Guide; everyone who writes receives a response.
 
During the Second World War, as during WWI, there was no Michelin Guide. The Guide was finally printed in 1945, but it wasn’t before 1947 to 1951 that Michelin stars progressively reappeared.

With the Michelin Guide in hand, American troops land in Europe

In spring 1944, while the formidable fleet which would land in Normandy was being organized in England, the Allied Forces feared that their progression would be delayed in French cities where all signage had been taken down or destroyed. After painstaking research and with the go-ahead of the Michelin Paris management, it was decided that the 1939 edition of the Guide – the last on record – would be reprinted. The complete edition, with its hundreds of detailed, up-to-date city maps, was printed in Washington, DC, and distributed amongst the officers. The only difference from the 1939 French edition was the mention on the cover stating ‘For official use only’. So it was that on D-Day the troops which would liberate Bayeux, Cherbourg, Caen, St. Lo and France itself landed with the Michelin Guide in hand. Most of these D-Day landing guides have been lost or destroyed in the bombings, others were taken back to the USA by soldiers returning home; there are very few known originals left in Europe. They differ from the initial 1939 edition in that the cover is less rigid, the colour is a lighter, pinkish red, the tyre insert is lacking and there are some comments in English on the cover.
 
In addition, after the liberation of Paris the Boulevard Pereire bureaus printed over two million maps of the north and east of France, Belgium and Germany, which the Allied Forces used to facilitate the armies’ progression.
 
1945 : The France Michelin Guide was on the shelves in spring. The required paper had been stockpiled, allowing for sales to begin as early as 16 May: one week after V-E Day. A small notice printed on the cover stated, ‘This edition, prepared during the war, can not be as complete and precise as our pre-war publications. Nevertheless, it should be useful.’

Pictos: the birth and evolution of an international Michelin language

 
 
S ince the Guide was launched in 1900, its pictographs, or symbols, have always evolved with the times.
 
From the presence of cold and/or hot water, of electricity, of telephones and of television in the rooms to whether an establishment accepts credit cards or has non-smoking tables or rooms; from the availability of WIFI to the picto symbolising the presence of a spa, these ‘little designs’ are Michelin’s own jargon. This visual international language, a sort of early Esperanto of the hospitality industry, has always been in tune with the trends and needs of the moment.



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1997-2003: From ‘Bib Gourmand’ to ‘Bib Hotel’
 
New pictographs were also developed in keeping with contemporary restaurant categories. Bib Gourmand restaurants, for example, offering superior value for money were introduced in 1997.
 
Another category, another picto: coins  which point to restaurants offering fixed-price menus (starter+entree+dessert) at an affordable price.
 
Bib Hotel came into existence in 2003. Along the same lines as Bib Gourmand, Bib Hotel spotlights hotels which offer excellent value and quality services.


© MICHELIN

1997-2003: From ‘Bib Gourmand’ to ‘Bib Hotel’
 
New pictographs were also developed in keeping with contemporary restaurant categories. Bib Gourmand restaurants, for example, offering superior value for money were introduced in 1997. Another category, another picto: coins which point to restaurants offering fixed-price menus (starter+entree+dessert) at an affordable price.
 
Bib Hotel came into existence in 2003. Along the same lines as Bib Gourmand, Bib Hotel spotlights hotels which offer excellent value and quality services.

Viamichelin.com: over 20 million hits a year for the Michelin Guide selections

More than a century of progress, more than a century of new guides, with 20 countries covered in Europe, the United States and Japan. From the Minitel era (with 3615 Michelin which provided access to the entire selection) to the Age of Internet, new services are continually being introduced. The site www.michelin-travel.com was launched in 1997, followed by the creation of a subsidiary, ViaMichelin, and its website www.viamichelin.com in 2000, with all Michelin selections open to perusal in French, English, German, Italian, Spanish and Dutch. Today, ViaMichelin.com gets over 20 million visits a year. Since 2008, internauts have been able to leave feedback about the selected establishments directly on-line, which is something Michelin Guide readers have been doing via post and e-mails for years.


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2005-2008: The Michelin Guide conquers America and Asia
 
In November 2005, the Michelin Guide crossed the Atlantic for the first time and landed in New York. This first edition of the New York City Michelin Guide featured 500 restaurants in the city’s 5 boroughs (Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens and Staten Island) and 50 hotels in Manhattan.
 
In 2007, the Guide set out to conquer Asia with the publication of the first Tokyo Michelin Guide, and Japan became the 22nd country to be listed.
 
In 2008, the Asian expansion continued with a Hong Kong and Macao edition.
 
In April 2007, the Michelin Guide launched a magazine, Étoile, in tandem with French publishing house Les Éditions Glénat…
 
 
 
Written with the help of l’Association des collectionneurs de guides et de cartes Michelin, l’ACGCM