What Is the Meaning of the Colors on a Barber Pole?

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Centuries ago, barbers did much more than just cut hair. They performed surgery, extracted teeth and engaged in bloodletting. A barber pole’s colors represent the barber’s role as a bloodletter.

Bloodletting

Barbers used to practice bloodletting.
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According to PBS.org, the ancient Greeks and Romans were the first to use bloodletting as a cure for many ailments, including fevers, pneumonia and back pain. By the Middle Ages, barbers had assumed the role of bloodletter in most communities.

Bandages

The white part of the barber pole represents linen bandages.
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The white part of the barber pole represents the linen bandages used to wrap the arm during bloodletting.

Blood and Veins

Blue stands for the veins tapped during the bloodletting process.
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Red symbolizes the blood released from the body. Blue stands for the veins tapped during the bloodletting process.

Sign

Eventually pain replaced the bandages.
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According to barberpole.com, barbers wrapped the actual clean and bloody bandages around a pole to serve as a sign. Eventually paint replaced the real bandages.

Another Theory

Northeastmarketplace.com claims the bandages were not wrapped around a pole. Instead, they were hung outside tied to the top of a pole where they twisted in the wind.

Pole

The pole itself may represent the staff which patients were given to squeeze.
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Northeastmarketplace.com also explains tBlue stands for the veins tapped during the bloodletting process.The pole itself may represent the staff which patients were given to squeeze, which helped the vein become more visible.

References

About the Author

I have been a professional historian, museum curator, and author for more than a decade. I have served as the Museums Editor at BellaOnline since 2004. I am qualified to serve as an expert in a variety of historical topics. My expertise includes the Victorian Age and McKinley's presidency, the Roaring Twenties, the 1950s, the flu, museum studies, material culture, architecture, and more. I have a BA in history and an MA in history museum studies from the Cooperstown Graduate Program. Please see my bio on my employer's website for more: http://www.mckinleymuseum.org/speakers_bureau/speaker/2

Photo Credits

  • Duncan Smith/Photodisc/Getty Images