The Barber Pole
By Harry Perelman, M.D.
The origin of the barber pole appears to be associated with the service of bloodletting. The original pole had a brass basin at the top representing the vessel in which leeches were kept, and also representing the basin which received the blood. The pole itself represents the staff which the patient held onto during the procedure.
The red and white stripes symbolize the bandages used during the procedure red for the bandage stained with blood during the operation and white for the clean bandages. These bandages were hung out on the pole to dry after washing. As the bandages blew in the wind, they would twist together to form the spiral pattern similar to the stripes in the modern day barber pole. The bloodstained bandages emerged as the emblem of the barber-surgeons profession. Later in time, the emblem was replaced by a painted wooden pole of red and white stripes. These colors are recognized as the true colors of the barber emblem. Red, white and blue are widely used in America due in part to the fact that the national flag used these colors. Another interpretation of these barber pole colors is that red represents arterial blood, blue us symbolic of venous blood and white depicts the bandage.
After formation of the United Barber Surgeons Company in England, a statute required the barber to use a blue and white pole and the surgeon to use a red pole. In France, surgeons used a red pole with a basin attached to identify their offices.
In recent years, the sale of barber poles has dropped considerable because very few new barber shops are opening, A few years ago there were over 100,000 barber shops in this country, but now there are only about 85,000.
Prior to 1950 there were four manufacturers of barber poles in the United States. In 1950,
Mr. William Marvy of St. Paul, Minnesota started his barber pole manufacturing business. By 1967, Mr. Marvy made his 50,000th barber pole and by the early part of 1996 over 74,000 poles were produced. The William Marvy Company is now the only surviving manufacturer of barber poles in North America.
William Marvy passed away in March of 1993. Today the company is operated by Mr. Marvys son, Robert, who plans to continue in the fine tradition of his father.