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A Brief History of the Barber Pole

Use of the barber pole first sprang up during the Middle Ages and Renaissance Period. The pole itself was used for the patient to grasp during the practice of bloodletting by the barber-surgeon, thus allowing the veins in the arm to expand before cutting. The use of leeches assisted in the blood flow by means of the leeches' anti-coagulant, the blood being collected in a bowl. Linen bandages were used during the procedure and were washed afterwards and hung out to dry on the pole which was usually kept somewhere close to the door. These bandages would often spiral around the pole in the wind whilst drying.

Later on, the pole was replaced by a painted one to represent the art of the barber-surgeon. The red and white stripes showed the clean and bloody bandages. The early barber's pole had a brass leech basin on the top but was later replaced by a ball which exists to this day.

After the formation of the United Barber-Surgeons Company in England, a statute required barbers to use a blue and white pole, while surgeons had to use a red and white pole. Today, especially in America, the three- coloured pole is widely used, representing the bandages (white), arterial blood (red) and veinous blood (blue), although red and white is perhaps more common in England.


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