The Batsh*t Crazy History of Dr. Martens in A Thousand Words or Less

What is up, watchfam?! Wait...wrong site, sorry.

Hey gents, what is going on. I’m Logan from Theo and Harris. Chances are if it’s on T&H, and you read it, that means I (probably) wrote it. Today, I’m gonna walk you through the absolutely insane history of my favorite bootmakers in the entire world: Dr. Martens. Disclaimer: I’m probably just going to call them DMs or Docs from here on out, so don’t get too confused, yeah? Right, let’s start at the beginning, because cliches are awesome and whatnot!

 Dr. Maertens Himself

Dr. Maertens Himself

It was a blustery day in 1945. The world was just coming back from the depths of war, and a young soldier/doctor by the name of Klaus Maertens found himself in the clutches of a horrible skiing accident. Okay, so it wasn’t too horrible, but he did break his foot, and it was this injury that led him to investigate how he could make his footwear more comfortable while he recovered. In so doing, he developed an idea for a sole, made of rubber, with pockets of air inside of it that would, ideally, add some extra cushioning to the step. And boy, was he right…

 

 

Thanks to some borrowed equipment, Dr. Maertens was able to construct a prototype of this inventive sole and, with the help of an old university friend, Dr. Herbert Funk, launched the business that, interestingly enough, wasn’t called Dr. Martens at the time (that came later), but were instead known as Dr. Maerten’s AirWair (a moniker which can still be seen on the pull loops of the modern boots). Still, within a few years, the business was booming at an incredible rate, and the company’s most loyal clients weren’t punks, or skinheads, or even the military - no, they were HOUSEWIVES. Yeah, you read that correctly. The original target market for the then German company was older women, and I don’t know if anyone else is blown away by that, but I sure was the first time I heard it.

Fast forward a few years, and the pair sell off their company to a British bootmaker called Griggs. The Griggs company, a family-owned business, struck a deal with Maertens and Funk and, drum roll please...they acquired it like JJ Abrams does a Cloverfield sequel. Wait...I can’t be the only one that found that joke funny. Really? What do you mean nobody else gets it...oh, whatever. Anywho, the Griggs’ made a few key alterations to the boots, including adding the now classic yellow stitch in the Goodyear Welt construction and making the name a bit more Anglo, and just like that, an icon was born. The original 8-hole boot was launched on April 1st, 1960 (which, somehow, isn’t nearly as cool as an April Fool’s release would suggest), which leant the model it’s identify number: the 1460 (1-4-60, because Britain).

For a long time, the boot was worn pretty exclusively by postal service workers and police, which is light years away from the symbol of the rebellion that the boot would become. And really, it didn’t take too long to get there. Now, when I say “Doc Martens,” the first thing you think of is a ration of skinheads or punks who were much more into wearing safety pins as earrings and throwing bottles across the street, right? You think Johnny Rotten and Joe Strummer, punk icons who changed the course of music history. Interestingly, both Strummer and Rotten wore another British brand, George Cox, but that’s another article entirely. Still, these weren’t the first rebel musicians to wear the boot, and they certainly weren’t the ones to elevate it from workwear to a symbol of self-expression. No, that honor goes to someone else…

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Pete Townshend

Photo: The Rake

That’s right, you can all thank Pete Townshend of The Who for popularizing the boot amongst disgruntled working class Brits with nothing to live for but rock and f*cking roll. From there, the ska-driven skinheads got ahold of the thing (though some argue that Pete actually stole the idea from them, so it’s a bit fuzzy that way), and later, the punks got their hands on the idea. These three distinct social movements had one thing in common, one common thread that helped to tie the history of Doc Martens together - a need to rebel against a social climate that suffocated individuality and self-expression.


In many ways, the boot still achieves this. Sure, nowadays we have people like Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus wearing the boots in such a way that, to be honest, I’m pretty sure would infuriate someone like Kurt Cobain (another notable fan of the boots). And to be fair, if anyone reading this actually watched the video for “Wrecking Ball,” Miley sported nothing but a pair of Cherry Red Docs in the video in the now infamous “wrecking ball riding” sequence.

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So if any of you gents want to get a better sense of the history of the boot, I recommend checking out this mini-documentary that the brand put together in 2011. It’s full of great interviews, cool promotional photos from the earliest days of the brand, and lots of glory shots of my favorite boots. Are they for everyone? Well, no, not anymore. Back in the day, they might have said something about your role as a member of the working class, but these days, they’re mostly a style choice. And yes, because I know it’s going to come up, the quality isn’t quite what it used to be after they outsourced mainstream production to Thailand. But I’ve had the same pair of the Thailand-made boots for going on five or so years, and they exhibit minimal signs of wear aside from some leather that I was too young to know to take care of when I got them. Had I done that, I’ve got a feeling that they’d still look significantly less worn than they do know, but I call it character.

If any of you guys decide to dive into a pair for the first time, or are longtime Docs devotees like myself, then be sure to share your experiences with the brand and, as always, keep it classy, watchfam...crap, I did it again.