A Shave, Hair Cut…And How About Surgery While You're Here


Ever wonder why the barber poles are red, white, and blue?


(Hint: only a small part of it is that they’re patriotic)


But the white and red colors indicated barbers in days past filled in as doctors and dentists. Barber poles actually descended from medieval times when barbers performed surgical procedures such as bloodletting. Patrons held a firm grip on a wooden pole that often had a brass basin at the top that contained leeches. Barbers hung both clean and bloodstained bandages outside their shops where they would twirl in the breeze.


Thus, those bandages came to represent the red and white stripes on the barber pole. Then in the U.S. later on, a blue stripe was added to show the American colors.


A barber-surgeon often had mundane tasks such as picking lice from a person’s head, extracting teeth, and of course, blood-letting.


Now, can you imagine for a minute how clean those shops must’ve been? Not! I shudder to think about a barber cutting someone’s hair with blood-stained hands. Or worse, performing surgery with hair on his clothes. Lord help! No wonder so many people died back then. Infection must’ve run rampant.


In the old days the pole had a crank that wound it. Electric ones have a switch.


The cast iron models weighed around 125 pounds. They’re much

lighter today.


The William Marvy Company in St. Paul, Minnesota is one company that still makes these. They opened up for business in 1950. They number each pole they make. And they’ve produced over 82,000. They’re proud to say that No. 75,000 built in 1997 is hanging in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Though business sharply declined over time due to electric razors and trimmers, they still employ 14 workers and are owned by third-generation Marvys.


The barber pole is such an outstanding and recognizable symbol. Today we know it only as a place to get your hair cut.


Thank goodness real doctors do the surgery now!


Do you have any opinions on the subject? I”d love to hear them.

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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!

17 thoughts on “A Shave, Hair Cut…And How About Surgery While You're Here”

  1. Hi Linda, interesting post. I love those old fashioned barber poles and I didn’t know a company was still making them. Barbershops were for men, right? Where did women go for surgery?


  2. I remember on the old show, Dr. Quinn, Medical Woman, when she first came to town and people were more likely to go to the barber than a female doctor. After she proved her worth, though, the untrained barber was more than happy to had the more serious cases off to her. Although, I do recall him pulling some teeth later on.

    I am SO thankful that barber surgeons are a thing of the past.

  3. Hi Margaret……..I’m glad my blog interested you. I didn’t know companies were still making the barber poles either. As far as your question…I don’t really know. I guess women were just out of luck. Or maybe they went in through the back door or something. Or maybe they were just too smart to avoid the bloodletting and leeches therapy. I’d sure have to think long and hard about that.

    Hope you have an inspiring day, Filly sister!!

  4. Hi Karen………Thanks for stopping by. Yes, I remember Dr. Quinn. Loved that show. I had a serious crush on Sully. I also remember that she had a rough time practicing medicine in the beginning and getting people’s acceptance. The men were really not wanting any part of her. But, I imagine like you said, the barber was breathing a sigh of relief that she took over the medical treatment business. I’m sure he felt out of his league.

    Hope your day is full of sunshine and creativity!

  5. Linda,
    Loved this post–I always learn something from you! I didn’t know about the barber poles and how they came into existence. Amazing that it’s a family owned business that’s been there for so long. Like you, I cringe to think of all the things a barber had to do and the state his hands and shop must have been in as he went about his day. ICK. Great post, filly sis!

  6. Yikes, Linda. The thought of those barber shops makes me shiver. With so many men going to unisex hair salons these days, men’s barber shops may become a thing of the past. Sad for such a bit of Americana.
    Thinking about barbershop quartets and how that got started. Hard to imagine real singing in barbershops, but maybe…
    Thanks for a fascinating blog!

  7. Hi Cheryl……….Thank you so much. I’m glad you got something from it. I thought it was interesting but didn’t know if anyone else would find it that way. Ha! Maybe I have a sick mind to search for these things. I totally agree about the cleanliness of the barber and his shop. Back then people never gave that kind of thing any thought. A good reason why so many died. I thank God that we learned so much over the centuries. I just wonder though what we’re doing today that will be considered barbaric a hundred or so years from now.

    Hope your day goes well and you get lots accomplished!

  8. Hi Elizabeth……….I love listening to barbershop quartets. They really have great harmony and the songs are so good. I don’t know any history of that part though. Maybe that’s something for a future post. I’ll keep it in mind. Glad you enjoyed my post.

    May you have a great day and plenty of sunshine!

  9. Hi Linda, I recently watched ‘American Pickers’ on TV and they had an old barber pole that they told about. Other than that I didn’t know the whole story. UGH!!! Can you imagine the germs??? Like you said, from the smell of no waste system to barber/surgeons no wonder so many folks died from infections.
    About women using the barber shop? A little story: My Mother was born in 1905. She lived in Brooklyn and Zion, NJ. When she was 12, she decided her hair was too long and hot and unmanageable. So, she cut it off! Her Grandmother about had a massive heart attack. A female didn’t cut her hair. It was viewed like a badge of honor, or some dumb thing. So with that in mind, women didn’t cut their hair, unless they were wild like my mother. They didn’t need a barber shop to go to. And if all these stories are like they read, they shouldn’t go in there for any reason!
    Have you noticed that the movies make them appear–clean???

  10. Isn’t is so nice to live in today world? We have real doctors to do the surgery and Hair dressers to do our hair and they went to school to learn to do these things.

  11. Thanks for another interesting post. I really wonder why someone who cut hair and gave shaves was deemed qualified to perform medical procedures. Other than being a visible and easily located member of society, he really had no other qualifications. It is surprising how long after medical professionals were being trained that barbers were still being used. In many cases, I am sure it was a matter of access to a doctor, in others, force of habit.

    My preference would have been the laundry lady. With all that hot water, soap, and bleach, there would have been a whole lot less of a chance of infection. If she were a mother, she probably knew more about anatomy and sickness than a barber would. But you know how weak and squeamish women are. The poor women couldn’t have handle it. (Said tongue firmly in cheek.)

  12. Interesting post, Linda! I just always thought it was a patriotic thing. Anytime I read or hear about the “doctoring” back in the day I cringe. I think I’d just pray and take my chances. 🙂


  13. Hi Mary J……….I’ve watched that show called American Pickers. It’s fascinating what they find and they always tell a little of the history. Oh my goodness, your mother must’ve been something. Sounds like she loved life and lived it large. Thanks for stopping by and sharing.

  14. Hi Quilt Lady………Thanks for stopping by to visit. Yes, it’s really nice that professionals handle their own distinct things. It works so much better this way. And people don’t die so often.

  15. Hi Patricia B……….You are so right. Us women don’t know a blooming thing and couldn’t get by without some man telling us what to do and when. It’s infuriating. But, it’s a darn sight better than it used to be. I pity those poor women who lived in centuries past. We might be a tad too outspoken on occasion these days but I’ll take it. Yes, a laundress would’ve been the best vocation I believe. Thanks for coming by to chat. It’s always a joy to see you.

  16. Hi Kirsten………..How nice of you to drop by. I know how busy you are with your new job and all. I wholeheartedly agree with you. I’d rather take my chances and not do anything than to have a barber do surgery on me. Lord help!

    Stay warm up there in Wyoming.

  17. Hi Linda…how cool. I LOVE learning trivia like this. My grandpa was a barber! Also enjoyed those cute revolving poles. Very clever!

    Sorry, I’m chiming in late. It’s been that kind of day!

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