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The origin of the barber pole is associated with the service of bloodletting. During medieval times, barbers also performed surgery on customers. The original pole had a brass basin at the top (representing the vessel in which leeches were kept) and bottom (representing the basin which received the blood). The pole itself represents the staff that the patient gripped during the procedure to encourage blood flow.
The red and white stripes symbolize the bandages used during the procedure: red for the blood-stained and white for the clean bandages. Originally, these bandages were hung out on the pole to dry after washing. As the bandages blew in the wind, they would twist together to form the spiral pattern similar to the stripes in the modern day barber pole. The barber pole became emblematic of the barber/surgeon's profession. Later the cloths were replaced by a painted wooden pole of red and white stripes.
After the formation of the United Barber Surgeon's Company in England, a statute required the barber to use a blue and white pole and the surgeon to use a red pole. In France, surgeons used a red pole with a basin attached to identify their offices. Blue often appears on poles in the United States, possibly as an homage to its national colours. Another more fanciful interpretation of these barber pole colours is that red represents arterial blood, blue is symbolic of venous blood, and white depicts the bandage.
Picture and baber pole origins info from http://www.flickr.com/photos/robertlz/2217843116/