Lisp was developed by John McCarthy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1958. He believed that the Turing model of computation was too crude, and designed, as a theoretical exercise, a language with nine operators. These included such things as an if-like statement (the first language to have one), functions to manipulate lists, and a lambda operator for creating functions. This notation and idea were largely from lambda calculus developed by Alonzo Church.
A student of McCarthy implemented Lisp on one of the college computers, something which McCarthy never intended. Despite this, Lisp soon became popular in the MIT environment, and soon attracted enthusiasts, including a certain Richard Stallman. Richard Stallman, and other hackers, such as Eric Raymond, often term Lisp their favorite language.
Lisp has always remained something of a niche language, but, most programmers who code in it regularly speak of it in glowing terms. Its low popularity and high customer satisfaction are probably explained by the fact that it is difficult to learn at first, or at least appears that way.