Blue Collar Candy: The History of the D.L. Clark Company

There is one candy bar that is distinctly Western Pennsylvanian – when was the last time you had a Clark Bar?

Although much of my work is fiction, I have invested some considerable time into a few nonfiction projects over the years. One nonfiction topic that is of special interest to me is the history of the D.L. Clark Company, former producer of the Clark Bar and Zagnut. The D.L. Clark Company has an incredibly interesting history that would immediately appeal to anyone fascinated by 20th century Pittsburgh lore.

I grew up with the Clark Bar, although I hardly knew that particular candy bar as anything unique among the world of confections. Oddly enough, the Clark Bar was actually the one candy item at my grandparents’ house that was distinctly “off limits” to any visiting grandchildren. As a child, candy hunting at my grandparents’ house was a tradition. My grandmother stockpiled chocolate candy and proceeded to stash the treats all over the place – often in very humorous and creative ways.

Despite her efforts, we were often successful in finding the “goodies”. There was always a variety.

Kit Kat.

Mr. Goodbar.

Twix.

Clark Bar.

But we were told that last one was decidedly not for us.

“Those are for your grandfather,” my grandmother would say.

That made good sense to me. My grandfather’s name is Clark. The five-year-old me was fully satisfied thinking that my grandmother had diligently sought out candy for my grandfather that just happened to have his name in blue lettering on the wrapper.

Of course, that was wonderfully convenient. I didn’t know anyone named “Goodbar” or “Twix”, so for a long time I satisfied myself with avoiding the Clark Bar and thoroughly enjoying whatever else I might find hidden away in the recesses of my grandparents’ dining room.

Clark Bar
The Clark Bar

I rediscovered the Clark Bar two decades later while on a field trip with a group of students in downtown Uniontown. My mind was immediately perplexed with how I had been able to forget such a clear memory from my childhood – let alone an absolute local history bonanza. That rediscovery touched off many years of research.

I was immediately engrossed by the details of the company’s history. David L. Clark was an Irish American, who had started his own confectionery in the back of his house. Those early efforts would expand into a brand that would become synonymous with Pittsburgh and introduce products that would continue to be made long after the company ceased to exist.

Initially, I turned my research into a lecture (Blue Collar Candy: The History of the D.L. Clark Company). I have been fortunate enough to share this lecture with several historical organizations throughout the Pittsburgh region over the last four years.

I shared this summary of the lecture with any hosting historical society, library, or museum for the purpose of publishing announcements:

Pittsburgh in the 19th and 20th centuries could, at times, be rough around the edges: the crackle of blast furnaces; the roar of locomotives; and the blast of steamboat whistles. Those features made up the Steel City we know and love – but that city had a sweeter side. Amidst the coal barons, railroad tycoons, and industrialists, existed one of our nation’s most successive chocolatiers and confectioners –David L. Clark. Clark, an Irish – born immigrant, established the D.L. Clark Company and helped pioneer various types of candy throughout the early 20th century. From the Clark Bar to the Zagnut and every treat in between, D.L. Clark Company products have brought smiles to the faces of Pittsburghers for over 125 years.

The Monongahela Area Historical Society was the first organization to host the lecture in 2012.

A few days after the presentation, I received a letter from Renee Exler of Monongahela, Pennsylvania, who is a member of the Monongahela Area Historical Society and Pittsburgh History and Landmark Foundation. What I received turned out to be a copy of a letter Renee had sent to Andy Masich, the President and CEO of the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Renee was kind enough to pass a copy along to me. The letter spoke well of the presentation, pointed out my research to Mr. Masich, and stated that, “People around the world have heard of the Clark Bar, perhaps eaten one, but this great Pittsburgh history would be lost…if it wasn’t for someone like Joshua Scully.”

My goal remains to eventually write the story of the D.L. Clark Company and seek publication. This is an ongoing passion and project.

After all that I’ve accomplished with this, I can’t help but wonder – what if I didn’t have a grandfather named Clark? What if my grandmother had said, “the Oh Henry! bars aren’t for you!”?

And then there’s the Zagnut, which has really created a niche all to itself.

Author: joshuajscully

That’s my picture up there. I’m not totally sure why I look so angry. I may be thinking about how much I hated the Crypt Keeper as a child. I grew up faithfully watching reruns of The Twilight Zone and Tales from the Crypt. Unfortunately, I missed the boat in terms of writing for either of those programs. I do consider both to have been wildly influential when I think back to my earliest thoughts about becoming an author and I’m grateful my parents let me watch those shows as a kid (although there were probably some nights early in my childhood my mother wished she hadn’t let me watch those shows). If you’re familiar with either program, then you know what genres are my focus. I thoroughly enjoy science fiction, suspense, the twist ending, and some horror or supernatural elements as well. Honestly, when I was a kid the Crypt Keeper scared the hell out of me. As an adult, I’ve really learned to embrace the puns. Historical fiction is a favorite of mine as well, and the root of that is shared with my profession. I am an educator by trade, and I teach American History. I consider some of the best writing I’ve ever done to be within the realm of historical fiction and I really enjoy saturating my mind in the research end of those projects. I would make the argument that storytelling is in my blood. Even my sister mulled, very briefly (about 45 minutes), launching a career as a screenwriter! My last name is one of those Irish (and, apparently, formally Manx) ones with a wonderfully researched history -“the story-teller’s descendant”. On of the first day of school each year, I do share that “my name is Mr. Scully, and that rhymes with Kelly”, just so I do not hear the myriad of mispronunciations on the first day. Several years ago, I started a blog similar to this one to highlight my middle years as a teacher. If that aspect of my life is of any interest to you at all, you can still find that blog online. During my summers, I really have time to pursue my writing projects and this blog will highlight some of that work. My first attempts to sit down and write extensively occurred when I was 15, but only a few years ago did I make setting time aside to write a priority. I’ve also benefited wildly over the years from many willing readers among my family and friends. The direction and feedback from those individuals has been invaluable. Outside the world of the written word, I am an educator, basketball coach, lecturer, and (very, very occasionally) a landscaper. I have only ever known Western Pennsylvania as my home. Although I love a good novel, I am absolutely unable to resist the power of the short story. The latter is really what I hope to be remembered for one day.

2 thoughts on “Blue Collar Candy: The History of the D.L. Clark Company”

  1. Hi Joshua, what an interesting read. I never knew the history behind the Clark bar. I love the memories of your grandparents. I have quite a few of my own as well. It sounds like you have a pretty large mission in front of you I hope all goes well! Thank you for sharing with us at #SimplifyWednesdays. I hope to see you again next week!Shared and Tweeted

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was an employee of Clark Bar America for 7 years. I was there until the end. I was very young at the time but I was aware of the great history of the Clark bar name. This is a very interesting article and I just wanted to say hi, from someone that was there.

    Like

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