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Dr. Maertens was an inventor. From a young age, his brain was alive with inventions and possibilities. The iconic air-cushioned sole found on our footwear is his most famous creation, but it was just one of a long line of ideas and projects he'd thought of, worked on and tried to launch. His workshop in southern Germany was crammed with leftfield creations, including a tandem motorbike, which was essentially two Vespas welded together.

During his mid-20s, Maertens badly broke his foot while skiing in the Bavarian Alps. He already had one leg shorter than the other due to a nasty teenage motorbike crash, and had to do extensive stretching every morning just to get out of bed and walk around freely. Now, laid up, Maertens realised that all the footwear available on the market offered no comfort from his painful injury. He’d worked at a cobblers one summer in his teens and had the skills to make shoes. An idea sparked in his mind: a sole cushioned by air.

Maertens took the concept to his university friend, a Luxembourg native and chemical engineer called Dr. Funck. Together, they created the first air-cushioned sole. Maertens instantly found they transformed the pain in his joints as he was, literally, walking on air.

But nobody in Germany was impressed by the idea. At least, not at first. Undeterred and with absolute faith in their invention, Maertens and Funck started an air-cushioned production line in a small shack on the edge of a peat lake, surrounded by piles of Funck’s university books and papers.

For some time, the new business barely put food on the two families’ tables, but gradually, customers started to return and word of mouth spread. Their revolutionary, durable and highly comfortable footwear started to take on a life of its own. As more orders flooded in, their shack was upgraded to a large former barracks.

By 1952, just a few years after Maertens had been airlifted off the Alps, the two doctors had to open a factory in Munich to start manufacturing their new shoes on an industrial scale. Seven years later, they received a call from Bill Griggs, a shoemaker from Northampton. The air-cushioned sole became the basis for the 1460 boot. The stage was set for Dr. Martens.


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