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.
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.
The white part of the barber pole represents the linen bandages used to wrap the arm during bloodletting.
Blood and Veins
Red symbolizes the blood released from the body. Blue stands for the veins tapped during the bloodletting process.
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.
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.
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.