The Michelin Guide from 1900 to 2005
Reflecting the innovative spirit of its creators, André and Edouard Michelin, the Michelin Guide’s 105-year history follows the pioneers of the motor car, the development of tourism, the emergence of gourmet cooking, and other changes in society over the years. This exciting story can be divided into four major periods.
1900- 1918: Serving the chauffeur
From the outset, the Michelin brothers anticipated that the car’s success would depend on the availability of fuel and of service outlets where, for example, a vehicle’s batteries could be recharged or its tyres changed.
The Michelin Guide was created to do just that—provide chauffeurs with practical information about where they could service and repair their cars (which numbered 3,500 in France in 1900), and find accommodation or a meal. In its first years, the Guide was thus intended for those hardy souls who set off on unpaved, unmarked roads in cars that constantly broke down. For them, the Guide was offered free of charge.
1919-1944: The driver’s handbook
As the car became more democratic, owners increasingly dispensed with chauffeurs—those mechanics of yesteryear—and started driving their cars themselves. Petrol pumps began to replace grocers with their cans, and the number of cars on French roads grew—from 95,000 in 1918 to half a million in 1923 and more than one million, four years later. The Michelin Guide followed these developments closely, thus supporting the growing popularity of the automobile.
The Guide remained free of charge until 1920, when it began being sold, for seven francs. As the story goes—told by the Michelin brothers themselves—the discovery of a lopsided garage workbench propped up on a stack of Guides convinced them that people only respect what they pay for. Consequently, there would be no more free Michelin Guides.
Maps were introduced in the Guide in 1910 and were increasingly featured as the years went by.
A “recommended hotels and restaurants” section was added in 1923 and the “star system” for outstanding restaurants was introduced in 1926. Throughout this period, the Guide developed the practice of recommending and ranking restaurants. The two and three-star categories were introduced in 1931 for the provinces and in 1933 for Paris. Michelin was now clearly positioned as a promoter of fine French dining.
1945-1988: Riding the wave of the post-war boom
In the difficult years immediately following the war, when gourmet restaurants were few and far between, the Guide adjusted to continue expressing its original “spirit of service,” with each edition from 1945 to 1947 explaining Michelin’s commitment to finding new starred restaurants. As early as 1946, a few restaurants were awarded a temporary “white star,” marking the virtually unnoticed creation of a symbol that would have—and still has—a major impact. As its 50th anniversary drew near, the Guide was cited by many journalists as the preferred handbook for drivers and tourists.
With France’s hotel industry modernising and motoring holidays on the rise, the Guide added new symbols.
Habits changed in the 1960s. Cars were no longer for the well-to-do and Saturday was now a day off, so people began to take advantage of the newly created weekend to have lunch or dinner in a restaurant. Thanks to our strict methodology, anonymous inspectors and impartial selection process, the Guide and its stars played a major role in this trend.
It was at this time that we gradually began introducing guides for other European countries.
1989-2005: Towards the new century
In response to new customer expectations, the Michelin Guide continued to innovate, creating the Bib Gourmand category of small restaurants offering good value for money, followed by the similarly positioned Bib Hotel symbol.
The collection also adapted geographically, extending its coverage to include all of Europe and leveraging new communication media. From the Internet to onboard navigation systems, the Guide has responded to increasingly mobile customer lifestyles.
In 2000, the Guide enhanced its presentation, adding a brief description of each hotel and restaurant to enrich the universal language of symbols used throughout. This text was introduced into the Great Britain & Ireland Guide in 2003.
And after all these years, reader feedback is more important than ever, confirming the validity of the Michelin selection and helping it to improve.
Michelin is the only European publisher to offer such a vast, consistent selection of hotels and restaurants spanning the entire continent, with 12 guides covering Austria, Benelux, France, Germany, Great Britain & Ireland, Italy, Spain & Portugal, Switzerland, Main Cities of Europe, Paris and London. As ever, the goal is to make travelling easier and help readers discover each region’s unique features.
Did you know…
• In 105 years, 30 million copies of the Michelin Guide for France have been sold, with an average of 400,000 copies
sold in each of the past three years in a total of 97 countries.
• 45,000 letters are received every year for the Michelin Guides in Europe, of which more than 80 per cent agree with our
recommendations. Two letters concerning the same hotel or restaurant may result in a visit from a Michelin inspector.
• Every year, 99 per cent of managers of selected hotels agree to be included in the Guide.
• Fewer than five per cent of establishments in the Guide have been awarded stars.
• The Michelin Guide Great Britain & Ireland includes 5445 establishments.
• The 12 Guides in the collection contain a total of more than 45,000 hotels and restaurants.