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History Of The Striped Barber Pole

In the Middle Ages, hair was not the only thing that barbers cut. They also performed surgery, tooth extractions, and bloodletting. French authorities drew a fine distinction between academic surgeons (surgeons of the long robe) and barber surgeons (surgeons of the short robe), but the latter were sufficiently accepted by the fourteenth century to have their own guild, and in 1505 they were admitted to the faculty of the University of Paris. As an indication of their medical importance, Harry Perelman points out that Ambroise Pare, "The father of modern surgery and the greatest surgeon of the Renaissance," began as a barber surgeon.

The barber pole as a symbol of the profession is a legacy of bloodletting. The barber surgeons necessities for that curious custom were a staff for the patient to grasp (so the veins on the arm would stand out sharply), a basin to hold leeches and catch blood, and a copious supply of linen bandages. After the operation was completed, the bandages would be hung on the staff and sometimes placed outside as advertisement. Twirled by the wind, they would form a red & white spiral pattern that was later adopted for painted poles. The earliest poles were surmounted by a leech basin, which in time was transformed into a ball.

One Interpretation of the colors of the barber pole was that Red represented the blood, Blue the veins, and White the bandages. Which has been retained by the modern Barber-Stylist.

The modern barber pole originated in the days when bloodletting was one of the principal duties of the barber.  The two spiral ribbons painted around the pole represent the two long bandages, one twisted around the arm before bleeding, and the other used to bind is afterward.  Originally, when not in use, the pole with a bandage wound around it, so that both might be together when needed, was hung at the door as a sign.  But later, for convenience, instead of hanging out the original pole, another one was painted in imitation of it and given a permanent place on the outside of the shop.  This was the beginning of the modern barber pole.

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