History of the Barber's Pole
Signs of the medieval period
Signs hung outside shops at this period were visual symbols of the trade carried out in the building. Most people could not read so the symbol was a useful clue of what was on sale.
The origin of the barber pole is associated with the service of bloodletting.
During medieval times, barbers also performed surgery on customers as well as tooth extractions. The original pole had a brass basin at the top (representing the vessel in which leeches were kept) and bottom (representing the basin which received the blood). The pole itself represents the staff that the patient gripped during the procedure to encourage blood flow.
The red and white stripes symbolize the bandages used during the procedure: red for the blood-stained and white for the clean bandages. Originally, 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 barber pole became emblematic of the barber/surgeon's profession.
Later the cloths were replaced by a painted wooden pole of red and white stripes.