Klaus Maertens 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 the standard issue army boots were far too uncomfortable on the injured foot, so while he recuperated, he brainstormed how to improve the boots. He designed a shoe that was made of soft leather, particularly with soft, air-padded soles. When the war ended and the Germans commenced panicked looting of valuables from their cities, Dr. Maertens went took some much more valuable stuff: shoe material from a cobbler's shop. He made himself a pair of boots with the now-famous air-cushioned soles.
He didn't have much luck selling his shoes until he met up with an old university friend, Dr. Herbert Funck, in Munich in 1947. Funck was intrigued by the new shoe design, and the two went into business that year in Seeshaupt, Germany, using some discarded rubber from Luftwaffe airfields. The comfortable and durable soles made the boot a huge hit with housewives; 80% of their sales during the first decade were to women older than 40.
Sales had grown so much by 1952 that they opened a factory in Munich. In 1959, the company had grown large enough that Drs. Maertens and Funck started looking to market overseas. Almost immediately, British shoe manufacturer Bill Griggs noticed the advertising and bought patent rights from Dr. Maertens so his shoe company, R. Griggs & Co., could manufacture the shoe in the UK. They Anglicized the name, slightly re-shaped the heel design to make them fit the foot better, added the trademark yellow stitching, and started selling the shoes with Dr. Maertens's soles under the AirWair brand name.
The first "Doc Martens" in the UK came out on April 1, 1960; thus 1460 as the name of the classic cherry-red, 8-hole design. They were very popular among workers like postmen, policemen and factory laborers who were on their feet for many hours a day. But by the late 1960's, another group took notice of Doc Martens boots: so-called football hooligans, who made the red boot their trademark, supposedly so that the blood of their enemies would not stain the boot.
By the early 1970's, Doc Martens were ubiquitous among the rising British punk rock stars. Sid Vicious was [arguably] the first punk to make DM's his; after him, it seemed everyone was wearing them, most notably young punk fans. Doc Martens boots were no longer the footwear of the working class, they were the footwear of rebel youth.
Doc Martens are now sold exclusively under the AirWair name, and come in dozens of different styles: everything from conventional black high-tops to steel-toed to sandals, and in all colors, including purple, blue, green, and orange. Pope John Paul II and his staff even have their own specially-made line in pure white.
I've been a DM devotee for about seven years; I have a pair of dark brown, steel-toed, eight-holed high-top boots that have been hiking boots and work boots for that long, and I just got a pair of black five-holed low-tops for more formal occasions. Unlike some trendy clothes that are really just crap clothes with a fancy label (Abercrombie and Fitch, Old Navy), Doc Martens live up to their reputation: sublime comfort and amazing durability.