Curious about the history of the barber pole? Read the brief history below and let us know your thoughts. Were you surprised to learn the origin of the barber pole? Source: History Channel.
The barber pole’s colors are a legacy of a (thankfully) long-gone era when
people went to barbers, not just for a haircut or shave but also for bloodletting
and other medical procedures. During the Middle Ages bloodletting, which
involves cutting open a vein and allowing blood to drain, was a common
treatment for a wide range of maladies, from sore throat to plague. Monks,
who often cared for the sick, performed the procedure, and barbers, given
their skill with sharp instruments, sometimes provided assistance. After Pope
Alexander III in 1163 prohibited clergymen from carrying out the procedure,
barbers added bloodletting—something physicians of the day considered
necessary but too menial to do themselves–to their repertoires. Known as
barber-surgeons, they also took on such tasks as pulling teeth, setting bones,
and treating wounds. Ambroise Pare, a 16th-century Frenchman considered
the father of modern surgery, started his career as a barber-surgeon.
The look of the barber pole is linked to bloodletting, with red representing
blood and white representing the bandages used to stem the bleeding. The
pole itself is said to symbolize the stick that a patient squeezed to make the
veins in his arm stand out more prominently for the procedure. In Europe,
barber poles traditionally are red and white, while in America, the poles are
red, white, and blue. One theory holds that blue is symbolic of the veins cut
during bloodletting, while another interpretation suggests blue was added to
the pole as a show of patriotism and a nod to the nation’s flag.
By the mid-1500s, English barbers were banned from providing surgical
treatments, although they could continue extracting teeth. Both barbers and
surgeons, however, remained part of the same trade guild until 1745. While
bloodletting largely fell out of favor with the medical community in the 19th
century, it’s still used today to treat a small number of conditions.