Klaus Märtens was a doctor in the German army during World War II. While on leave in 1945, he injured his ankle while skiing in the Bavarian Alps.
He found that his standard-issue army boots were too uncomfortable on his injured foot.
While recuperating, he designed improvements to the boots, with soft leather and air-padded soles made of tyres.
When the war ended and some Germans recovered valuables from their own cities, Märtens took leather from a cobbler’s shop. With that leather he made himself a pair of boots with air-cushioned soles.
By the later 1960s, skinheads started to wear them, ‘Docs’ or ‘DMs’ being the usual naming
Märtens did not have much success selling his shoes until he met up with an old university friend, Herbert Funck, a Luxembourger, in Munich in 1947.
Funck was intrigued by the new shoe design, and the two went into business that year in Seeshaupt, Germany, using discarded rubber from Luftwaffe airfields.
The comfortable soles were a big hit with housewives, with 80% of sales in the first decade to women over the age of 40.
By the late 1970s, they were popular among punks, musicians and members of other youths (pictured Ian Dury in the shoes)
Sales had grown so much by 1952 that they opened a factory in Munich. In 1959, the company had grown large enough that Märtens and Funck looked at marketing the footwear internationally.
Almost immediately, British shoe manufacturer R. Griggs Group Ltd. bought rights to manufacture the shoes in the United Kingdom.
Griggs anglicised the name to ‘Dr. Martens’, slightly re-shaped the heel to make them fit better, added the trademark yellow stitching, and trademarked the soles as AirWair.
By the later 1960s, skinheads started to wear them, ‘Docs’ or ‘DMs’ being the usual naming, and by the late 1970s, they were popular among punks, musicians and members of other youths.
The boots and shoes became increasingly popular in the 1990s as grunge fashion arose.
In 2003 the Dr. Martens company came close to bankruptcy. On 1 April that year, under pressure from declining sales, the company ceased making shoes in the United Kingdom, and moved all production to China and Thailand. Five factories and two shops were closed in the UK, and more than 1,000 of the firm’s employees lost their jobs.
Following the closures, the R. Griggs company employed only 20 people in the UK, all in the firm’s head office.
Five million pairs of Dr. Martens were sold during 2003, which was half the 1990s level of sales.
In 2004 a new range of Dr. Martens was launched in an attempt to appeal to a wider market, and especially young people.
The boots and shoes became increasingly popular in the 1990s as grunge fashion arose. (pictured, the band Madness wearing the boots)
The shoes and boots were intended to be more comfortable, and easier to break in, and included some new design elements.
Worldwide sales of Dr. Martens shoes grew strongly in the early 2010s, and in 2012 it was the eighth-fastest-growing British company.
In 2018 ten million pairs of Dr. Martens shoes were produced, only one percent in the UK and in 2019, Dr. Martens announced plans to double the production of shoes and boots in the UK, to 165,000 pairs annually in 2020.
The boots have a trademark yellow stitching which was added by the British shoe manufacturer R. Griggs Group