History Of The Barber Profession


THE profession of barbering is one of the oldest in the world. Archeological studies indicate that some crude forms of facial and hair adornment were practiced among prehistoric people in the glacial age.

There are in existence many relics, such as combs, cosmetics and razors, the latter made of tempered copper and bronze, which came from the tombs of Egypt. These relics, as well as many written records, reveal that the nobility and priesthood had already become regular patrons for the barbers’ services 6000 years ago,

In those ancient days the barbers’ art included shaving, haircutting, beard trimming, hair coloring and facial makeup.

During the time of Moses (1450-1400 B.C.) barber services became available to the general population, as well as to the nobility. However, people governed by Mosaic (Moses’) law had definite instructions forbidding them from cutting the hair and trimming the beard in imitation of others who had adopted the custom.

The Bible contains several passages pertaining to the services of the barber. A few of the references may be found in:

Deuteronomy 14:1, prohibiting shaving between the eyes of the dead.

Leviticus 19:27, prohibiting trimming of the beard.

Leviticus 21:5, prohibiting shaving the head.

The greater part of the 13th chapter of Leviticus gives instructions for the diagnosis and treatment of diseases. In this chapter, the 29th to 37th verses gives instructions for the diagnosis and the treatment of scalp and face diseases by shaving and quarantine.

In King David’s time (1115-1055 B. C.) barbers played part in wars.

In 595 B. C. Ezekiel said: ‘And thou, son of man, take thee a sharp knife, take thee a barber’s razor, and cause it to pass upon thine head and upon thine beard.”

In the golden age of Greece,  500 B. C., well-trimmed beards were fashionable. Later, in 334 B. C., Alexander the Great decreed that beards must be shaved, Thus the have became a military. expediency for the purpose of gaining advantage in the hand-to-hand combat. This enabled Alexander’s warriors to grasp an enemy by the beard, but they themselves were safeguarded in this customary method of fighting.

Barbering was introduced in Rome in 296 B. C. There the art became further advanced, and Rome became known for it fine baths and barber salons. The barbers became very popular and prosperous, and their shops were frequented as centers for daily news and gossip. All free men of Rome were clean-shaven, while slaves were forced to wear beards. It si from the (Latin) word barba, meaning beard, that the word “barber” is derived.

In the early Christen era barbers became assistants to the clergy, who, on sacrilegious grounds, were not allowed to do the surgery of those days. The barbers did blood-letting. Later they pulled teeth, and for centuries this act comprised the whole art of dentistry. Later on, barbers also administered herbs and other forms of medications. For more than a thousand years they were known in history as barber-surgeons.

It was the custom of the barber-surgeon to use  a white cloth bandage to stop bleeding on the arm of a person after blood-letting operation. This blood stained bandage was then hung up to dry. As time went on, the hanging, of blood stained bandage became recognized as the emblem of the barber-surgeon’s profession. Still later the original emblem was replaced by a wooden pole of white and read stripes. This symbol is today’sbarber pole, and it is universally used as the sign of a barber shop. 

Barber-surgeons formed their first organization in France in 1096 A.D. Soon after this the first formal school of surgery was established in Paris by the barber-surgeons.

In the early years of the twelfth century a guild of surgeons was organized from elements within the ranks of the barber-surgeons. The members of the guild of surgeons applied themselves to research and study of medicines and drugs in efforts to find new methods of healing.

In the fifteen century, in England, the science of medicine was growing to such an extent that the guild of surgeons surpassed the barber-surgeons in knowledge and specialized skill, and they succeeded, by an act of parliament, in restricting the barber-surgeons to the medical practices of blood-letting, tooth-pulling and simple cauterizing.


The surgeons and barber-surgeons in England were reunited in 1505, and this union existed for two more centuries. However, the restrictions on barber-surgeons continued during this period.

As time went on, medicine continued to advance through science and research, and it greatly overshadowed the ancient and dying practice of blood-letting. the barber-surgeons’ medical practice dwindled in importance and repute in the light of advancing science, and finally in 1745, the alliance between surgeons and the barbers was completely dissolved. The barbers, however continued to practice blood-letting and tooth-pulling, and they dispensed some simple herb medicines in the villages and small communities because of precedence and because often they were no physicians available.

The year 1745 marks the end of a long and glorious period in the history of the barber profession. Stripped of it’s former prestige, barbering continued to decline economically, technically and even morally. There was a slow degradation of the art, and by the end of the nineteenth century barber shops had become untidy, unsanitary and undignified. They became characterized as centers for cheap gossip and reading rooms for risqu� magazines, rather than for their tonsorial services. Barbering in general became an unrespected craft, and barbers were grouped in the lowest social strata.

The Rebirth of a Profession

In the latter part of the 19th century a few barbers who were men of high ideals initiated efforts to lift the craft of barbering from its degraded position to it rightful level of professional, personal service. Barbers began to organize into employer organizational services, known as “boss barber” and “master barber” groups and into employee organizations known as “journeyman barber” groups.

On December 5, 1887, the Journeyman Barbers International Union was formed at its first national convention at Buffalo, New York. Affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, this employees’ union is now called The Journeyman Barbers’, Hairdressers’, Cosmetologists’ and Proprietors’ International Union of America, with its headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana. 

In 1893 Mr. A. B. Moler also published the first text-book

of barbering. “The Moler Manual of Barbering.”

In 1897 the first barber license law was passed in Minnesota. This state legislation was designed to prescribe sanitary practices for barbering, and it stipulated minimum educational and technical requirements for barbers in that state.

On November 19, 1924, the Associated Master Barbers of America was organized in Chicago, Illinois, through the leadership of Louis E. McIlvain. The name of the organization was changed to Associated Master Barbers and Beauticians of America at the National Convention in Cleveland Ohio, in October, 1941, in recognized as the national organization representative of barber and beauty shop owners and managers.

On October 19, 1927, the National Association of Standardized Barber Schools was organized at its first convention in Cleveland, Ohio. This organization immediately sought to develop co-operative efforts with the National Educational Council of the Associated Master Barbers and Beautician of America, in a program to standardize the operation of barber schools in the United states and the training of students in these schools  

On October 21, 1929, the National Association of State Boards of Barbers Examiners was organized at its first convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. Its purposes, expressed in resolutions adapted by the convention, were to standardize qualifications of applicants for barber examinations and to standardize methods of examining applicants. Also, this organization of State Barber Boards declared itself to be a clearing house for information that might be of value to all State Barber Boards.

In 1925 the Associated Master Barbers and Beautification of America established the National Education Council, whose purposes were to standardize school training and to uplift the art of barbering. Some of the outstanding achievements of this council include; (1) standardization of the better class of barber schools which must have instructors qualified under the rules of the National Educational Council; (2) training of Barber Science teachers; (3) establishment of a curriculum of Barber Science for the practicing barber, in connection with several thousand Council diplomas have been issued (Barber Science has also been added to the curricula of the Standardized Schools, and beginning students today have the advantages of its advanced instruction); (4) the formulation of the Model License Bill, in conjunction with the journeymen Barbers’ Hairdressers’ Cosmetologists’ and Proprietors’ International Union of America (A great deal of legislative work has been done co-operatively between the Associated Master Barbers And Beautifications of America and the union, which has resulted in the passage  of state barber license laws. Up to the date of publications of the Standardized Textbook of Barbering, Fourth Edition, the District of Columbia and all states of the union except Virginia have a barber license laws. Minimum price laws are now enforced in a number of states. (5) the creation, in 1930 of a Research department on the General Office of the Associated Master Barbers and Beauticians of America.


The first practical achievement of the Research department was the compilation and publication, in 1931 of the Standardized Textbook of Barbering, First edition the first standard, all inclusive volume ever written that covered and co-coordinated complete instructions in the practice of barbering and the study of Barber Science. Subsequently, the Association published a Second Edition and a Third, both of which met with the approval of the profession.