Dr Martens – A History of Self-Expression – Part 1

During this time, the original Dr Martens boot made its first appearance. On April 1st 1960 the first Dr Martens boot (which we now know as the 1460 style) rolled off the production line. Initially intended as a working man’s boot for police, construction workers, and other professions needing an ultra-sturdy and –reliable boot, it was soon adopted by the nascent 60s youth culture. And so began the association of Dr Martens with youth subculture (you might even say counterculture) which remains to this day and could be argued to be unrivalled.

But how exactly did this happen? How did a utilitarian work boot become associated with the rebellious subculture of the 60s?

The story begins in the English Midlands, in the otherwise unremarkable town of Wollaston, Northamptonshire. The area had been the primary shoemaking region of England since the Middle Ages and in 1901 an individual named Benjamin Griggs teamed up with Septimus Jones to form a boot-making partnership. Jones left the partnership a decade later, and so Griggs recruited his son, Reginald, and mother Jane, to fill the gap. The company was now a family business and would remain so for the next century.

With ownership of the firm now consolidated within the Griggs family, they settled down to focus on earning a reputation for hardwearing, solid footwear, generally heavily-screwed and -stitched boots for miners, farmers and the military. (As an aside, it’s ironic that the original Dr Martens boot was basically an army boot, considering the brand’s later association with Skinheads and other counterculture “against the Man” types.)

The original boot was based on the Bulldog military boot, which British Tommies had worn throughout the two World Wars. Even further back, Oliver Cromwell had seized Northamptonshire in order to procure boots for his Ironside soldiers, relying on the county’s existing shoemaking industry and expertise.

Klaus MaertensThe story now moves to Germany, to one Dr Klaus Maertens living in Seeshaupt, Bavaria, south of Munich, in the 1940s. Born in Brunswick, central Germany, Maertens began working at a cobblers in his teenage years, before studying medicine and then being drafted into the Wehrmacht in the Second World War in his twenties. During leave, he broke his foot while skiing in the Bavarian Alps and during his recovery he came up with an idea to remedy his injury: a sole made of some type of air-filled material rather than conventional leather.

Once the war was over Maertens returned to devastated Munich and quickly realised that the city had plenty of doctors but lacked a supply of decent footwear. Joining with many other residents of Munich, Maertens took advantage of the post-war chaos and indulged in some looting. But while others looked for jewellery and furs and suchlike, Maertens picked out a cobbler’s last, some leather, needles and threads. Unfortunately he was unable to source enough leather for more than a handful of uppers and his nascent career was further hindered by the British, who arrested him in northern Germany for illegally travelling across the British Occupation Zone in 1946. Upon his release, six months later, he was determined to make a prototype pair of boots using his "air-cushion sole" idea, and managed to do so, using an old hose for the sole with wedges of felt inside the cavity. Wearing these boots, he left the British Occupation Zone in northern Germany and headed south toward Munich…

End of Part 1 – CLICK FOR PART 2