Museum of Texas Tech University, History Division
To collect, preserve, document, and interpret the material culture of Lubbock and the South Plains, and its adjacent West Texas regions.

To collect, preserve, document, and interpret the material culture of Lubbock and the South Plains, and its adjacent West Texas regions.

Title of Image Koken Barbers' Supply Company was the elite name in barbering: This status was achieved by pioneering the use of the hydraulic chair lift in 1892, and much else. Koken was such a respectable name that it quickly spread around the country to places like Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas (indicated on this plaque), where chairs, razors, and much more could be distributed to rural and urban places around the country.
Title of Image A View from the Museum Exhibition: History Division collections were used to illustrate a span of barbering items, technologies, and styles including everything from straight edges to razors, shave mugs to brushes, a variety of strops used for sharpening, and of course the collection's own restored Koken Barber Chair.

Arriving at the Chair:
Shave and a Haircut?

Where the barber's pole may invite you in, it is the chair that says welcome. The barber's chair is a well known and widely recognized icon. It is the epicenter of the barbershop. It immerses you into a world of history and lore.

The barbering profession owes its roots to a distant time in human history. The tools of the craft have been linked to ancient Egypt, and often include sharpened flints and oyster shells in antiquity. Gaining prominance over time, the craft became a pivotal element to the social lives of Greek, and then Roman individuals. In fact, there are even biblical references to barbering found in the passages of Ezekial!

Origin Theories of the Barber Pole

The craft continued to evolve into the Middle Ages, where barbers would cut much more than hair. Often, these barbers were also surgeons. Typically engaging in bloodletting, and various other aspects of dentistry and medical care, barber shops were really a one-stop shop. These practices would even lead to the iconic red and white striped barber pole. Many theories have come down through time to explain the origins of the design. Some offer firmly that it had been a white pole with blood from the bloodletting splattered across its surface. Others, still contend that it had been a red pole with the bloody bandages, originally white in color, wrapped around it. Certainty, however, about the origin eludes modern inquirers.

France and Engalnd would see such a boom in this cross-professionalism over the years that legal action was taken on several occaisions to provide a clarification of what a barber was. From being grouped with these other professions to keep disputes limited, to separating them to eliminate confusion, the process was a difficult one to understand. It would lead to yet another theory of the barber pole. In this theory, it is suggested that this confusion would offer to the public one site that on some days would offer surgeon services and on the others offer the barbering service, hence the two colors.

Finally in the mid-18th century, the two were finally split for good, and barbers were left with the pole to add later intrigue. The popularity of barbers would ebb and flow throughout the 19th century. By the end of the century they were commonly accepted on main streets everywhere, particularly in America. This development was advantageous to African Americans working in the South after the Civil War, providing one of the few means available to financial advancement. The impact of this rising popularity to popular culture can still be felt today. Barbershops have even become the setting to many popular films.

A Barbering History of Lubbock

By the early 20th century, barbering was booming in the United States. Barbershops were well established all around the country especially in up -and-coming locations. In the early 1890s, for example, Ed T. Cox had established his barbershop as one of the first businesses in early Lubbock County. By 1909, the year that Lubbock became an incorporated city, four barbershops had already found a home within the city limits. They were big draws especially for men and boys alike. Where commercial beauty shops were beginning to get going around this time, many barbershops had become a sort of gentlemen's club where unruly behavior was commonplace.

A location for washing off the dust of the South Plains, the tubs of barbershops in places like Lubbock, were places where people could revitalize themselves. Often these shops would house personal shaving mugs and brushes of clients for their regular visits. Barbershops were, much as they are today, a hub of social life.

Barbershop Tech

Within these early shops is where the straight edge ruled. Razor strops, brushes, blades, and elixirs from all over the world would work magic to freshen up even the dirtiest customer. These tools would change greatly over time yet maintain that ultimate quality of the barbershop invention, the triumph of utility over aesthetic. This triumph was so obvious that it led to the home use of the very same tools from the barbershop.

Razors are a primary example of this. The straight edge had been a lynchpin of the barber craft for many years having surpassed the flint and oyster shells of years past. Although he was not the first individual to work towards a safer blade design, as safety razors had been around for some time, King Camp Gillette would invent in the early 1900s a means of providing disposable razors to the world. By the mid-20th century, men were shaving at home daily, and occaisionally, on the battlefields of Europe in World War II. The barbershop, the gentlemen's club version, would slowly give way in part to today's salons and hairstylists. With the advent of new men-directed salons today, however, modern American's may be witnessing a resurgence of a shave and a haircut from the past.