How the Michelin Guide Helped Liberate Europe

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On D-Day, the Allies had help from a little red book.

Earlier this week, Michelin announced it would be bringing its stars to Washington, D.C. While it’s an incredible boost for D.C.’s growing food scene, this isn’t the first encounter the city has had with the French tire maker’s storied guide.

In early 1944, as the Allies began planning the invasion of Normandy, they realized they had a problem. The German military had removed or destroyed much of France’s signage, and the Allies worried they’d have trouble navigating the countryside.

They needed maps, and quickly determined that the best were Michelin's. Though we now think of the Guide as culinary reference material, Michelin originally conceived the book as an enticement to get drivers out on the roads of Europe (and wearing through tires). Its maps, bolstered with information gathered by the Michelin critics, were thought to be accurate and comprehensive.

One problem: The Guide was out of print. Publication had ceased during the war, so the U.S. government quietly reprinted the most recent edition (from 1939) in Washington, D.C. And when Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normany on June 6, 1944, they carried a certain little red book. For the remainder of the war, advancing forces depended on Michelin maps.

Published on stockpiled paper, the 1945 guide found its way onto shelves only a week after V-E Day. Printed on the cover was a short message: "This edition, prepared during the war, cannot be as complete and precise as our pre-war publications. Nevertheless, it should be useful." Useful, indeed.

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