Barber Board & Shop Changes

Last week I made mention how the creation of the State Barber Boards made changes that would affect the barbershop for all time to come. Kansas created their State Board of Barbering February 27, 1913. The purpose of the board was to standardize education and shop practices for the protection of the public and the professionals. Before the Barber Board, individuals learned the trade from a master barber, one who had numerous years of experience under their belt.  Apprenticeships often lasted for three years. After which, the journeyman barber could open his own establishment.

Early on, for a barber to lawfully practice in this state, he was to attend a barber school approved by the state. He was to complete a course of 2000 hours training, and then apprentice under a master barber for one year before he could go out on his own. When I went through the barber college in Wichita, nearly ten years ago, 1500 hours were required to get a license and they have long ago done away with the apprenticeship.  They found that an apprenticeship was a hindrance to the perpetuation of the profession.  Since the number of barbers in the state is dramatically fewer than it was 60 years ago, it is better to cut down the time from schooling to employment.  Also, with the scarcity of barbers it would be difficult to find one to apprentice under.

But, you may ask, doesn’t the barber need that extra training?  I can assure you that most of us were fairly satisfactory barbers by the end of the third month of school.  The rest of the time is just perfecting your execution.  Then again, there are a few that will never be good at cutting hair no matter how many years of training they get.

Every state has different requirements by their own Board of Barbering. Last time I checked, Alabama was the only state in the Union that does not have a Barber Board, consequently there is no need to be licensed or even trained to practice. Have mercy.

History records Joseph Farina at the age of 7 years passed his barber exam in 1917 and began work in his father’s shop in New Buffalo, Mich.  An inspector walked in the shop and directed the boy to shave him.  “No blood was drawn and a certificate was issued.’  Joseph’s brother Russell was also employed at a very early age.

The most notable change by state boards was in sanitary practices.  After the turn of the century ‘sanitary shops’ were in vogue.  Really, all that meant was that they had running water.  Even up into the ‘30s back bars were still manufactured without lavatories, but they could be added if desired.  By about 1916 the ‘Terminal Method’ was the only acceptable way to operate your shop.  The name was derived from New York City’s Terminal Station, where the method was first practice.  Basically it had running water, lavatories, steam sterilizers, sanitary compartments for implements and an attention to cleanliness.

If you walked into a barber shop anytime from 1890-1920, you would find very elaborate and decorative back bars. Some had gingerbread work, finials and even sphinxes, griffins or carved busts of women incorporated into them.  The back bar was designed to catch your eye, as well as dust.  When sanitary shops came in, all the ‘dust collectors’ were removed to make cleaning easy. Then to top it off, the beautiful oak and walnut wood was painted white to look clean. This is why authentic back bars are so expensive today; it is very rare to find them complete and unadulterated.  Wooden back bars had come to an end and by 1930 tile and glass back bars were being produced, replacing ornate, figured wood with colorful geometric design.

Another good reason for having regulations is to prevent barbers from poisoning their customers. I kid not. Before standard training and licensing, on back to the very first barbers, it was a common practice to mix their own concoctions of hair, skin and other tonics. Tonics and hair dyes often contained such chemicals as benzoin, tincture of cantharides, silver nitrate, corrosive sublimate (aka mercury chloride, once used to treat syphilis), and even laudanum. Now, aren’t you glad I’m not trying to sell you this stuff?

A headline from the New York Times November 8, 1876 reads, “NEEDED REFORMS- The worst features of tonsorial depravity are, however, exhibited in connection with the inevitable “tonic” which every barber offers for sale. No matter what may be the condition of the customer’s hair-whether it is soft or course, black or gray, thick or thin-the barber informs him that he must use the “tonic” or he is lost. To sell to every customer a bottle of tonic is the unswerving purpose of every barber, and it is only the exceptionally obstinate and courageous man who escapes. In every barber’s shop there are rows upon rows of bottles filled with “tonic” and bearing the names of victims who have been forced to purchase them. The story of their weakness and defeat is thus constantly kept before their eyes, and so depressing is its effect that the man who has once bought a bottle of “tonic” is thenceforth the barber’s slave. He may never use that bottle, but when, after an interval of two weeks, the barber tells him that the bottle is empty and that he needs a new bottle, he buys it without a word of protest.” This was of course presented in a humorous manner, yet there was a shade of truth to it.


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