In the first year of the 20th century, with fewer than 3000 automobiles on the primitive roads in France, André and Edouard Michelin decided to offer motorists "a small guide to improve mobility", to facilitate their travels. It would, of course, encourage the development of the automobile industry in France, and increase the demand for Michelin tires and other products.
The first blue book of the "MICHELIN" guide was published by the Michelin brothers in August of 1900. The first edition, with 35,000 copies, was given free to motorists. It listed the petrol stations across France, contained information on garages for the different "marques", where to get your Citroen or Peugeot repaired, where to find supplies and parts, and also where to find toilets, meals and accommodation along the way.
In 1904 the Guide went international, with the publication of the Michelin Guide Belgium. The Britain Guide started in 1911.
The Bureau of Itineraries was created in 1908. This bureau provided motorists with free travel plans. The number of itinerary requests built to 19,000 in 1921 and to 155,000 in 1925.
In 1920 the Michelin Guide went commercial. The story has it (according to the ViaMichelin website) that André Michelin discovered the Guides being used to prop up a workbench in a tire merchant's shop. Deciding that "Man only truly respects what he pays for!", a price was put on the Guide: 7 francs, and advertising was taken out of the Guide.
Also in 1920, the dining part had become so popular, Michelin established a team of anonymous inspectors, and began listing restaurants according to specific classification guidelines.
The star system was born in 1926, with the creation of the dining star. In 1931 the system was expanded with the addition of the second and third stars. By 1936, the definition of the stars was esbablished (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') and they haven't change since then.
In 1931 the blue cover was change to the now-familiar red. The famous Michelin Red Guide is available for other European countries () and as of 2006 for New York.
WWII. The following is excerpted from the www.viamichelin.co.uk website:
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.'
The Bib Gourmand restaurants came along in 1997, followed soon after by the coins symbol, for restaurants with an affordable fixed-price menu (starter+entree+dessert).
In 2003 the Bib Hotel rating was added, for hotels with good accomodation at moderate prices: under 75€; under 90€ in large towns [2010 prices].
In 2005 the New York City Michelin Guide came out, and in 2007 the first Tokyo Michelin Guide was published. The Hong Kong and Macao Michelin Guide arrived in 2008.
"Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey" ("Une des meilleures tables, vaut le voyage").
In 1995, there were 20 3-star restaurants in France.
"Excellent cooking, worth a detour" ("Table excellente, mérite un détour").
In 1995, there were 77 2-star restaurants in France.
"A very good restaurant in its category" ("Une très bonne table dans sa catégorie").
In 1995, there were 445 1-star restaurants in France.
"Good meals at moderate prices". This sub-star category was started in the 1950s. The name "Bib" is not a reflection on needing to protect your front from messy eating, but "Bibendum", Michelin's Michelin-Man logo.
Much of this content is is from the ViaMichelin UK website (http://www.viamichelin.co.uk/tpl/mag6/art200903/htm/tour-saga-michelin.htm).