Little Canal Winchester Boasts National Barber Museum

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Historic barber chairs and barber poles dot the National Barber Museum in Canal Winchester, Ohio.(Photo: Marilyn Smith/WOSU)
Historic barber chairs and barber poles dot the National Barber Museum in Canal Winchester, Ohio.(Photo: Marilyn Smith/WOSU)

Nestled in the small village of Canal Winchester is a national museum dedicated to one of the world’s oldest professions. The job has evolved over time employing updated tools and modern sanitary precautions but it’s just as essential today as ever.

The museum is perched aptly atop Rex’s Barber Shop at the corner of Waterloo and High Streets in the historic heart of Canal Winchester. Mike Ippoliti oversees the The National Barber Museum.

“We refer to it as the second oldest profession. It goes probably to 7000 BC. There have been artifacts found for cutting hair way back when. We have thousands of artifacts. I know mugs alone we have more than twelve hundred. Razors probably a couple thousand,” Ippoliti explained.

Mike Ippoliti of the The National Barber Museum, shows off some of the instruments that were used for bloodletting. Photo: Marilyn Smith/WOSU

Being a barber today is quite different than it used to be, Ippoliti said.

“Bloodletting was part of it. The barbers were also the surgeons and the dentists,” he said.

Barbering’s roots in bloodletting can be seen in the popular red, white and blue barber poles still used today, Ippoliti said.

“The white is bandage, red is blood and the blue is vein. Years ago when they used to do the bloodletting they also had a blood bowl. You would grab a pole, he would cut you. You’d bleed into the bowl. He would bandage you when you stopped bleeding. He’d toss the rag on the pole to dry. Thus the first poles were just red and white. Then later on they thought we can aerate veins so the blue stripe goes in,”

While it might seem ancient and barbaric, Ippoliti said the death of the nation’s first president, George Washington, just 205 years ago might have been attributed to frequent bloodletting.

“It drained all of the antibodies out of his system. So when he got pneumonia he died because of the number of times he was bloodlet because he didn’t have the antibiotics in his system that the blood carries to fight this off. I suppose of you say they killed more people than they saved,” Ippoliti chuckled.

In addition to bloodletting instruments , the museum also features large wooden handled bristle neck brushes now replaced by more sanitary methods of removing shorn hairs. And, barber patrons today rarely if ever receive their very own, highly personalized shaving mug. The museum, Ippoliti says features hundreds of them.

“Some of them have signatures on them. Some have their name on them. Some have occupation; photograph mugs. There are fraternal mugs like The Masons, The Oddfellows, the Knights of Columbus and various other fraternal organizations.”

Describing shaving mugs and explaining the history of barbering with its roots in bloodletting and dentistry has been something of a surprise to Ippoliti. The former disc jockey, turned television producer, has appeared in more than 400 commercials and movies through the years. But Ippoliti’s lifelong interest in history has taken him down a different path at least for now.

“Well I…Six or seven years ago if you would have told me that I would be doing this today, I would have told you you were crazy. I know more about barbering now than I ever did in my life,” Ippoliti allowed.

Despite its long history and all of the paraphernalia that went with it, barbers took a hit in 1960s. The long hair and beards that marked the period nearly put barber Roger Fry out of business. But today the semi-retired Westerville barber and museum visitor is back at it, plying his craft one day a week at Rex’s Barber Shop downstairs. He’s said he’s glad he’s a practicing barber today rather than back when it tinkered in blood and teeth.

Mike Ippoliti with the National Barber Museum so called “bald comb."

Mike Ippoliti with the National Barber Museum so called “bald comb.” Photo: Marilyn Smith/WOSU

“It’s amazing what we used to do as barbers. Again it had to be an apprentice program getting in with a barber to learn the bloodletting, surgery, teeth pulling. That must have been a difficult time,” Fry said.

Today even Mike Ippoliti who demonstrated the museum’s so called “bald comb” mostly used to tame the fringe left on his nearly hairless head, traded home haircuts for a trip to the barber.

“Well, my wife did. But now she says you have to go to a barber. So Rex downstairs he cuts my hair,” Ippoliti said.

The National Barber Museum in Canal Winchester may not be well known to Central Ohio residents, but it has attracted visitors from all 50 states and 30 countries around the world.

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