Monday, November 12, 2007

The Art of Tire Advertising

I get some pretty unusual requests here at Today's Inspiration headquarters... but this week's topic might be the most esoteric one yet.

Pablo Medrano, a graphic designer from Barcelona sent this note:

"I'm writing my Master Thesis in Graphic Design History at the Central University of Barcelona, about "The Forgotten Years: The American Phase of Michelin in Milltown. Advertising in Pioneer Tire Companies. The Early Years (1900-1960)".

"This fully illustrated thesis talks about the graphics on early advertising press campaigns, especially the use of character trademarks done by different illustrators for some tire companies: Michelin Man (of course), Kelly-Springfield girl (Lotta Miles), Hood Tires service man, Fisk Tires boy, Old Man Mileage from Republic Tires, the polar bear of Gillette Tires..."

Pablo's letter got me thinking about all the tire advertising I'd come across and only taken note of if it was done by an illustrator I had an interest in, like the Stan Ekman piece above or the James R. Bingham illustrations below.

But when I went back and really began compiling examples of ads from the different tire companies for this week's topic, a fascinating picture began to emerge.

Inventing the wheel took a tremendous amount of creative thinking... but I almost think it took even more creativity to come up with interesting and compelling ways to capture the public's attention and focus them on one particular version of the wheel.

Certainly, the 1950's art director(s) on the Kelly Tires account did some of the best work in that category.

So this week might be of more interest to those of you who are designers and art directors - and marketers - than to the many illustrators who visit the blog... though the focus will, of course, be exclusively on illustrated tire ads.

Please note that this is hardly a broad overview of tire advertising during the 50's... just a selection of some ads from some companies that I found appealing. I completely ignored all the photographic ads and dull "technical" ads (of which there were many!) that I found.

Rather than start a new category, all of this week's images will be added to my Auto Ads Flickr set - and they are really worth seeing at full size, so take a minute to click the link and do so.


  1. Last illustration it’s totally amazing, I love that kind of drawings specially with an excellent use of perspective.

  2. Thanks for your always nice help, Leif!

    Yes, you have reason, Kelly-Springfield was a very active company on press advertising.

    Since 1910, with the creation of their famous character trademark Lotta Miles, the Kelly-Girl, some amazing illustrators have contributed to made an industrial product more friendly to the consumer. The great Lou Mayer on 1920s, the master of the line Lawrence Fellows from 1918 to 1931, automobile lover Peter Helck on 1925, industrial designer Otto Kubler on 1926, or the elegant Slayton Underhill on middle 40s.

    Be in touch, my friend,
    now here is too late, it's Time to Re-Tire...

    Pau Medrano from Barcelona

  3. Bob Bollini asked me to post this comment on his behalf:

    Great idea, Leif. Road movies and road advertisements probably do more to capture the American sense of freedom than any other image. I never thought of tire ads, but after seeing a few of these I think the tire manufacturers are crazy not to beat the bushes for illustrators!

    Incidentally, I'm finding the "comments" opportunity a little confusing; it might be a help if you told us what to expect when we want to leave a comment for you, and which option to choose. (I use Firefox)

  4. If anyone has any advice for Bob, please do post it here. Technical Luddite that I am, I have no idea why some people have trouble commenting while others seem to be able to post them without difficulty.

    Knowledgable bloggers, your assistance would be greatly appreciated! :-)

  5. Anonymous4:45 PM

    giving it another try using 'other'. I have no Google address and don't want yet one more to oversee.

  6. Anonymous4:48 PM

    OK. That posts the comment as 'anonymous', so if you want to identify yourself, sign the comment itself or get a Google name.
    Bob Bollini

  7. Looking at these illustrated tire ads and Leif's comment about all the tire ads using photography, reminded me of an experience I had. As a Creative Director in San Francisco in the 1970's, I created trade ads for a number of industrial accounts, that ran in trade magazines. Actually my background and schooling had been in illustration, so I would push for illustration over photography whenever I could, if it was appropriate... and I would often do the illustrations myself. Unfortunately, clients often had the mindset that photography was more believable, especially when showing their product. I always had pretty good luck convincing them that an illustration could be even more effective than a photo in many cases. And, often there was more control and flexibility in getting just what I wanted from an illustration. In most of the trade magazine ads, an effective illustration would always stand out among a sea of photo reproductions... a solid validation to use illustration more, for a one time skeptical client.

    Tom Watson

  8. There are some gorgeous tire ads out there - here are three!! (let me know if you know the illustrator on the two of them)

  9. Anonymous7:13 PM

    Thanks for not forgetting Lawrence Fellows -- he was one of the great pen-and-inkers. I tried to buy an original of his off the Kelly-Springfield people and was told, no dice.

  10. If anyone has an original Kelly-Springfield blotter signed by artist Edmund Mullieu, please contact me. He is my grandfather and he worked in advertising for the company in the late 1920' to early 1930's. I saw where one had sold on E-Bay with the original signature on the back. I am trying to reconstruct my grandfather's career in advertising from memory and would like to acquire some of his work that is not in what remains of his portfolio. Edmund Mullieu was a contemporary of Fellows and spoke highly of his work. Mullieu lived in Brooklyn, NY during the time he was employed by Kelly-Springfield and took the train to North Carolina back and forth making the trip back to Brooklyn about once a month to bring money back to his family as he and one brother out of six children were the only family members working during the Great Depression. He was a graduate of Pratt Institute and The Art Student's League in New York. If you have uncovered any information that you have found on Edmund Mullieu during your research, I would be greatly appreciative if you would contact me. I think your project is wonderful and I hope that you continue your research into original art advertising of the past century.

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  12. Anonymous8:01 PM

    I don't know if you're still doing this blog, but I just found the original art to a 1961 Kelly ad. It can be seen at,poster. The artist looks like Kohler or Kehler. I was hoping you could help me identify the artist.

  13. Anonymous8:04 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  14. Anonymous8:05 PM

    I just realized that the link includes the entire page of images. The art is the ad on the 3rd row from the top, 3rd ad from the right - Ride the Kelly Road.

    1. Anonymous7:14 AM

      I was just informed that the artist was named "Keith Kohler", and he worked as an illustrator in New York in the 1950s and 1960s. He also was the artist of your last image- "Ride the Kelly Road".

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