Note: The following was contributed by Guest Author, Karen Gennari.
When we were kids back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, what was dancing in our heads during those tedious school days? Adjectives and adverbs, numerators and denominators? The Big Dipper, the farm products of Poland? Not in October. Not with Halloween barreling toward us. All those intellectually stimulating topics that would ensure us future success were supplanted with thoughts of ghosts and witches, black cats and jack-o-lanterns . . . and visions of candy, candy, and more glorious candy!
There were Good & Plenty and Jujubes, candy cigarettes and Necco Wafers, but my four favorites, in no particular order, were Milky Ways, Three Musketeers, Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bars, and Clark Bars. I’d say they were the favorites of the kids in my neighborhood as well. But Clark Bars deserved a gold asterisk because they were made right here at the Clark Building on Martindale Street on Pittsburgh’s North Side. Though Clark Bars achieved nationwide success, we Pittsburghers considered them our candy bars. Few could beat that peanut butter and caramel core with the milk chocolate coating.
I cherished those Clark Bars that piled up in my pillow case on Halloween night. At the end of trick-or-treating, I’d sort out my favorites and count them. One year, I noticed that my remaining Clark Bars and other favorites did not match my inventory sheet. Someone had been pilfering them, and the prime suspect was my brother Billy. As they kept dwindling, I knew I had to take action. Well, I showed him . . . or didn’t show him, that is. I attached my pillow case to a clothes hanger with safety pins and hung it way in the back of my closet among my skirts and dresses. He never found them, and my remaining Clark Bars were saved.
The D. L. Clark Company traces its roots clear back to 1886 when an Irish immigrant named David L. Clark first began selling candies out of a horse-drawn wagon on Pittsburgh’s North Side.
In 1917, Clark acquired the candy and cracker factory not far from where those wagon wheels traversed. Although they produced a plethora of different kinds of candies, the five-cent Clark Bar became an international hit.
It was during World War I when, for the first time, each Clark Bar was individually wrapped—in its now iconic red and blue wrapper—to aid delivery to American troops. During World War II, candy-starved troops were desperate for the sweet stuff. In a 1999 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article titled Billions of candy bars later, Clark quietly closes,” staff writer Jonathon D. Silver quoted an observer at Guadalcanal: “They could take the bombings and the sniping, and they could get along without vegetables and fresh meat. They wouldn’t yearn so much for the bright lights and the movies and the girlfriends — if only they had some [candy]. Candy — just candy. And there isn’t any.”
With multiple employee strikes halting production of Clark bars back home, the federal government stepped in, claiming that the prized candy bars were instrumental to the war effort. More than 1.5 million Clark Bars kept the soldiers supplied throughout the war.
I’m guessing that when those soldiers got home, they headed to the A & P or Woolworth’s to share their beloved Clark Bars with family. I know my dad, an Army Air Force vet, loved them.
Ever since 1948, driving through the downtown Pittsburgh area at night meant marveling at the giant illuminated Clark Bar sign atop the Clark building. If you were attending a Steelers or Pirates game at Three Rivers Stadium, the view of the giant Clark Bar sign was at your disposal. You couldn’t miss that beacon in the night.
Clark Sign by Joseph. Creative Commons.
In 1983, Leaf, Inc. acquired the family-owned D.L. Clark Company, and in 1986, it relocated to O’Hara Township. PA. Alas, we Pittsburghers were heartbroken when the towering Clark sign that had been a Pittsburgh landmark for years went dark. It was taken down and relegated to the Clark building parking lot, never to adorn the night sky again.
Even more disheartening, after a series of sales and bankruptcies in the 1990’s, the New England Confectionary Company (Necco) took ownership and moved production to Revere, Massachusetts.
After that, It was my experience that Clark Bars became scarce in the Pittsburgh area. Two years ago, as Halloween was approaching, I was in Shop ’n Save to browse the candy selection. I was shocked when I looked down at the piles on the tables and came face to face with a bag of fun size Clark Bars. I instantly snatched up a couple of bags. A few weeks later, when it fully hit me that I had a rare find indeed, the fun size Clark Bars were gone, and I haven’t seen any since.
I made sure to display my Clark Bars among my outdoor Halloween decorations that year:
What’s that you say? Clark Bars are coming back to Pennsylvania? Oh, Frabjous Day! Callooh! Callay!
It turns out that this past September, the Boyer Candy Company, makers of the Mallo Cup, purchased the rights, recipe, and equipment for the Clark Bar from an anonymous seller after NECCO went bankrupt. They have begun production at their plant in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Granted, it is nearly a two-hour drive from Pittsburgh, but we’ll make do.
According to Patricia Sabatini’s recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article “Clark Bars aren't quite ready yet. Enter Clark Cups.,” Boyer CEO Anthony Forgione plans to have the words “Born in the Burgh” stamped on the back of the traditional red wrapper as a thank you to Pittsburgh.
No, the bars aren’t quite ready yet. Sabatini warns us: “A list of ingredients came with the deal, Mr. Forgione said, but step-by-step instructions on how to cook them up ‘weren’t as specific as we would have wanted.”
With the help of former Clark employees, they hope to perfect the recipe and get the classic candy bars back on our local store shelves within a few months . . . and then onward nationally and internationally.
Until then, they’ll keep tinkering until they get the recipe just as it was in the 50’s and 60’s when I pulled those treasured bars out of my pillow slip on Halloween night.
Yahoo for Clark Bars, an American institution near and dear to our black and gold hearts!
Karen Gennari is a retired English teacher. She has written articles for The Sixties in America and The Seventies in America, reference sets published by Salem Press, and has written the book The Crab Hollow Chronicles, published by eLectio Publishing.