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Barber History & Culture

barber history

Barber History & Culture

Did you know that Barbering is the oldest (legal) profession still in existence?

Barber History

Early Tribes

Barber History

Earliest records go back to primitive man where the medicine men and priests were also the “Barbers”.

They were very superstitious. Many believed that spirits entered the body through the hairs on the head and could only be driven out by cutting the hair.

Ancient Egypt

barber history

Ancient monuments and papyrus show the early Egyptians barbering. Barbering services were performed by Egyptian nobility. They used crude instruments that were usually formed from sharpened flint or oyster shells.

Romans, Greeks & Persians

barber history

Romans had barbers since 296 BC, when Ticinius Mensa came from Sicily and brought the art of shaving with him.

Greeks set a trend of “Barber Shops” being the place to meet, socialize and gossip just as they are still today.

The absence of beards set apart “Free” men from slaves.

The Persians are said to have beaten Alexander the Great’s army because they were able to grab the men's beards, pull them to the ground and spear them. Later it was said, Alexander ordered his entire army to shave.

Middle Ages

barber history

In the Middle Ages, Barbers not only cut hair and shave. They also pulled teeth, dressed wounds and performed simple operations.

barber history

They were called “Barber-Surgeons”.


barber history

Until the 18th century Barber-Surgeons duties also consisted of “Bloodletting”.

The Practice of “Bloodletting” was common because it was believed that the food you ate and digested turned into blood. They believed an excess of blood would result in bad ailments and that “Bloodletting” would resolve them.

Physicians thought the art of cutting was beneath their skills and left this practice to the Barbers.

To advertise this service, Barbers would put bowls of blood outside their windows, to remind people to have their “Bloodletting” done.

The Barber Pole

barber history

The Barber Pole originated from the rod that the patient grasped to make their veins bulge, it made it easier to cut or slice the veins open.

The brass ball at the top represents the basin used to collect the blood.

The red and white stripes symbolized the blood-soaked bandages, which were washed then hung to dry on the rod outside the shop. The bandages would often twist in the wind, forming the spiral pattern we see on barber poles today.

Later, law required barbers and surgeons to separate and distinguish their services by the colors of their pole:

BARBERS: Blue & White SURGEONS: Red & White

barber history

Today, red, white and blue barber poles are often found. Some say it represents red as arterial blood, blue as venous blood and white as the bandages.

When the pole is spinning, the red stripes are meant to move in a direction that makes the red (arterial blood) seem as if it was flowing downwards, as it does in the body.

Colonial Times

barber history

During the colonial times, many men, especially the rich and wealthy wore wigs or had long that that they would powder white. Therefore, most men during these times were smooth shaven. Barbers would not only perform shaving services on men but they would also do repairs to the wigs that the men wore.

Civil War

barber history

Doctors during the civil war were called, surgeons. Interestingly, many of the surgeons on the battlefield had little to no medical/surgical training at all. While some of the individuals who became surgeons during the war received their title based solely on political influence, in many cases former barbers were appointed as surgeons for their more practical abilities learned through the time spent in the barber craft. Whether or not a barber was appointed a surgeon on the battlefield, barbers themselves would still perform teeth pulling, as dentistry did not become its own profession until the 1900’s.

Barber history

After his nomination, President Lincoln grew a beard which led a movement that beards became fashionable again.

Mid to late 1800’s


Barbershops of the late 1800s and early 1900’s prospered due to many modern-day conveniences such as electricity. The barbershop became a prevalent establishment in every community and was a gathering place for men to chat, gossip and enjoy themselves, just as it is now and was in the old days of Rome and Greece.

barber history

The average barber shop during this time cost approximately $20 to equip. Haircuts would average from five or ten cents and shaves would cost about three cents.

The First Barber School

barber history

It was not until 1893 when A.B. Moler opened the first Barber School in Chicago. He also published textbooks at that time.