The red stripe signifies blood

19 10 2010

Did you know that barbers once pulled teeth?

I learned that this week. I’m working on a licensing case involving barber shops and I have been researching the history of  barbers. They have a colorful past.

Bloodletting

In the Middle Ages, monks and priests – as the most educated people in society – became the physicians of the period. One of the most common treatments for curing a variety of illnesses was bloodletting. The clergy enlisted barbers to assist them with this practice.

The rise of barber-surgeons

In 1163, Pope Alexander III forbade the clergy from drawing blood because it was sacrilegious. At that point, barbers took over the duties. They continued the practice of bloodletting, performed minor surgery and pulled teeth. For centuries, dentistry was performed only by barbers and for more than a thousand years they were known as “barber-surgeons.”

The red stripe on the barber pole represents bloody bandages

The symbol of the barber-surgeon was the striped barber pole that we still see today. The pole is thought to represent the staff that the patient would hold tightly in order for the veins in the arm to stand out during bloodletting. The white bandages used to stop bleeding were hung on the staff to dry. The stained bandages would then twist around the pole in the breeze, forming a red and white pattern. One interpretation of the colors of the modern barber pole is that red represents the blood, blue the veins, and white the bandages.

Do you just have to know more? For more interesting facts about the history of barbers, I recommend the textbook used by all barber students in Texas, which is Milady’s Standard: Professional Barbering.