Archived Pages from 20th Century!!

By Rochelle Puccia

It's been 35 years since the first pair of Dr. Martens rolled off the production line in the UK and not even the saviest of fortune tellers could have predicted that these chunky utility boots would explode beyond the construction site in such enormous proportion. What's more, they've surpassed the fleeting trend stage, having become a permanent fixture in British culture and are gaining similar ground abroad. The company that manufactures them has also grown, evolving from a small shoemaker into one of Britain's major fashion companies. How did these workboots step into the multi-million dollar limelight without (until recently) the slick ad spreads and head-banging hype? It started in a small town near Munich, Germany, in the 1940s, when a skiing accident left Dr. Klaus Maertens nursing a leg injury and in need of a comfortable walking shoe. Together with an engineer friend, Dr. Herbert Funct, he designed a shoe with an air-cushioned sole using old tires. Where most traditional men's shoes are stitched onto the leather upper, the doctors heat-sealed the sole for an air-cushioned effect. Within two years, the doctors had their design patented and began selling the shoes all over Germany primarily as "comfort" shoes for the elderly.

By 1959 the new "Dr. Maertens" shoes were selling across Europe and a company was needed to produce them in Britain. In came R. Griggs and Company, a family-run shoe company in the English village of Wollaston, Northamptonshire, where shoe making has been a speciality since the 17th century. By April of 1960, Griggs had obtained a license to manufacture these comfort shoes in the UK, branded their own line of footwear calling it AirWair, British-ized the name to Dr. Martens, and launched the first pair of eight-eyelet boots (a style that remains popular). The boots were purchased mainly by workmen because of their comfort and practicality, but were quickly adopted by British teens. Soon, demand for boys' sizes increased; the company discovered that women were buying them and introduced the shoes in women's sizes.

The world-wide influence of British youth culture in the '80s resulted in a huge demand for "Docs" and the formation of AirWair Limited, the international export division of the Griggs Group. Today, Dr. Martens is headed by the fourth and fifth generations of the Griggs family. Griggs produces more than 190,000 pairs of Dr. Martens per week, with more than 50 million made in the UK since 1960. The company is still privately owned and headquartered in Wollaston.