Every time I bite into a Clark Bar, I become 10 years old again.
Irish immigrant D.L. Clark created the legendary chocolate-coated peanut-butter-crunch confection in Pittsburgh in 1917. Individually wrapped Clark Bars were shipped to U.S. troops during World War I and became popular nationwide following the war.
According to “Sweets: A History of Candy,” Clark applied a new technique that allowed a thin milk-chocolate shell to coat a non-chocolate filling, producing America’s first successful “combination” candy bar. That makes the Clark Bar’s origin a reflection of American innovation.
Clark’s family-owned business produced the candy until 1955, when his company was acquired by corporate owners in Pittsburgh. But every October for decades after that, thousands of families bought the highly affordable bars to hand out on Halloween night. That makes the Clark Bar a tremendous source of American nostalgia.
By the time we were both 10 in 1972, my best friend Tommy Guillen and I had Halloween night down to a science.
We knew which houses to hit and which to avoid. A couple of families always handed out popcorn balls or Rice Krispies marshmallow bars - families that were just begging to have their car windows soaped!
Georgetown, the richest neighborhood near our homes - literally on the other side of the railroad tracks - was our first stop.
Georgetown parents filled our pillowcase sacks with brand-name candy heaven: Hershey’s, Nestle Crunch, Milk Duds, Good & Plenty, Almond Joy, $100,000 Bar, Twizzlers, Snickers, Milky Way, Kit Kat, M&Ms, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and the granddaddy of them all, Mallo Cup - chocolate-covered marshmallow perfection!
After miles of walking, we’d head back across the railroad tracks to hit the small ranch houses in the adjoining borough - affordable homes built during the post-World War II boom for returning veterans benefiting from the GI Bill.
The families in those neighborhoods were wonderful - but, being budget-conscious, they were strictly Clark Bar families, as the locally produced confection was always discounted during the Halloween season. Our pillowcases would be filled with dozens of Clark Bars when we’d finally conclude our trick-or-treating.
The Clark Bar’s corporate ownership would go through a series of sales and bankruptcies over the years. Production finally ceased in 2018, breaking the hearts of millions of 1970s kids like me.
But now, the Clark Bar is back!
Boyer Candy in Altoona, Pa. - the very same company that makes the Mallo Cup - has begun producing the Clark Bar again. That makes the Clark Bar part of a classic American comeback story.
Though I didn’t yet appreciate or understand the Clark Bar’s history when I was 10, I certainly enjoyed devouring hundreds of them. The Clark Bar remains a heavenly piece of Americana - one thing that still unites millions, even in these highly partisan and divided times.
Regrettably, the Clark Bar’s comeback is currently limited to the Pittsburgh market. But if you can, buy a pack or two - and share them with friend and foe alike.
Sharing the Clark Bar’s tastiness just might melt hearts just enough to foster calm, reasoned discussion.
Every time I taste one, I become as hopeful and optimistic as I was when I was 10.
I hope everyone can enjoy and share the positive energy that comes from enjoying a few bites of the Clark Bar’s chocolate and peanut butter perfection - together.
Tom Purcell is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist. Send comments to Tom at Tom@TomPurcell.com.