Nebraska, Nevada and at least eight other states have regulations for who can display barber poles outside their business. North Carolina, Michigan and Minnesota are currently considering legislation which would levy fines against offenders. A Minnesota bill specifying that only licensed barbers may use the iconic barber pole outside their business is scheduled for its first Senate hearing Thursday, according to The Associated Press. Penalties for violators have not been specified. Ohio’s requirements that only barbers may use the poles went into effect long ago. Inspectors for the state report about a dozen violations each year. Executive director of the Ohio State Barber Board, Howard Warner, says regulators could impose a $500. fine, but typically just required the pole be taken down.
The Minnesota bill is sponsored by Republican Representative Bob Gunther. Gunther says, “It’s been a centuries-long, recognizable symbol of a barber and only a barber.”
The term barber is derived from the Latin word for beard. A barber can offer shaves with a straight-edge razor and is specially trained to use shears and clippers. Each state has their own licensing requirements for barbers and cosmetologist. Both typically require hundreds of hours of training and a yearly fee.
The barber pole symbol originated when barbers used to perform bloodletting, according to BarberPole.com. One ribbon was twisted around the person’s arm before bleeding, a second was used to bind the arm afterward. Patrons gripped a rod or pole to make their veins easier to tap. When not being used, the pole with the bandages wrapped around it were hung outside to signify the service of bloodletting was offered at that location. Eventually, a pole was painted to represent the actual pole and permanently mounted out front as a sign.
“The barber pole is the oldest sign in town besides the cross. It should not be displayed where there is not a licensed barber,” says Charles Kirkpatrick of Arkansas. Kirkpatrick has been a barber since 1959 and monitors barber industry legislation for the National Association of Barber Boards of America.
Jeanie Thompson, owner of a beauty parlor and president of the Minnesota Salon and Spa Association tells The Associated Press, “They’re still trying to hang onto the vestiges that say they’re special. I can cut a man’s hair. Why shouldn’t I be able to put a barber pole up? They’re making a mountain out of a molehill.”