D. L. Clark Company in Pittsburgh
“I Want a Clark Bar!”
Though usually coming from the mouth of a cartoon giraffe, or a camel, in 1960s television commercials, and visible around town on lighted billboards, the declaration "I want a Clark Bar" was a common phrase both in and around the Pittsburgh area since first introduced in 1917.
With a history that stretches back to 1884, Clark candies are as intertwined in the fibers of Pittsburgh history as Heinz ketchup and Iron City beer. Along with the Hershey Company, the Clark Company put Pennsylvania at the epicenter of candy production in America.
From Clark Bars to Teaberry Gum, the Clark Company's treats have traveled all over the world from their origin in Pittsburgh's seven-story North Side factory.
It all began with a young Irish immigrant who was short on change.
Born in 1864, David Clark went to work early. He found a job as a newsboy and soap salesman when he was six years old, knocking on doors for pennies. Two years later, he would immigrate to the United States with his family and settle in the City of Allegheny, which Pittsburgh later absorbed as the North Side.
Clark supposedly had an intense sweet tooth as a child and was often scolded by his parents for spending money on candy. He didn’t listen. When he was 16, Clark hired a friend to make batches of candy, which Clark would sell from the two back rooms he rented at a local shop on Walnut Street.
Despite limited resources, Clark's chocolate business earned a loyal following, and the small operation steadily expanded. The D.L. Clark Company was officially chartered in 1886.
According to Guido Ferrari, an 44-year year Clark Company worker, D. L. Clark was a stern but fair boss who seldom chatted with employees. "He was a quiet fellow. He didn't bother anybody," said Ferrari. "Oh, he was a businessman. He started from scratch, delivering candy by horse and buggey. It took him three days to make a round trip."
With demands for Clark's products growing, the company headquarters was moved to a factory in McKeesport in the mid-1890s, where Clark began to produce a variety of confections, including Zig Zag, a popular caramel coated popcorn similar to Cracker Jack.
Clark’s Teaberry gum debuted in 1900 after the company secured a patent for "easy-chewing" gum, inspired by the wintergreen flavor of mountain teaberry leaves Clark chewed as a child. The gum reached its top popularity during the 1960s, largely due to a Herb Alpert commercial featuring "The Teaberry Shuffle."
North Side Production Facility
Clark purchased the James McClung Candy and Cracker factory in July 1911 and soon found success with a much larger production capacity, bringing his gum and candy operations under one roof for the first time. The seven-story factory was located at 503 Martindale Street and, in time, became one of the most recognizable of Pittsburgh's historic buildings.
"In our plant on the Northside we make of chocolate drops alone 50,000 pails, or 1,500,000 pounds, or approximately 97,500,000 chocolate drops a year," an August 28, 1921 ad run in The Pittsburgh Press claims. "This is only one of fifty kinds of fine quality 'pound' candy."
Fueling American Fighting Men
Business picked up significantly in 1917, when the U.S. first joined World War I. By this time, Clark was making about 150 varieties of candy, and he immediately offered to help feed the Americans stationed overseas. But his company’s signature chocolate drops proved too cumbersome to ship overseas, and military officials asked Clark to devise a product that would be easier to transport.
The result was the Clark Bar, a four inch, five cent chocolate bar with a crunchy peanut butter core. The Clark Bar, and its iconic blue and red wrapper, was a massive success and remained popular well after the war ended. By 1929, the factory was churning out more than 900,000 candy bars every day.
“This would be equivalent to more than 17,000 miles [of Clark Bars laid end-to-end] in a year of 300 working days, more than two-thirds of the distance around the earth and almost a tenth of the distance to the moon,” The Pittsburgh Press estimated in 1929.
David L. Clark died in 1939, but the factory continued under the direction of his six sons and six daughters. Just as World War I yielded Clark's flagship product and a financial boost, the years surrounding World War II would prove to be the company’s best. The company was making a million Clark Bars a day and there were 700 workers employed.
Chocolate, including Clark Bars, became such a staple of military diets during the war that when a strike halted production twice, in 1942 and again in 1943, the federal government intervened and officially deemed the candy an "essential wartime product."
In 1999, a letter was received by the Post-Gazette came from a forward observer at Guadalcanal, who said "the candy bars served as an unmatched source of comfort for the men fighting."
“They could take the bombings and the sniping, and they could get along without vegetables and fresh meat," the observer wrote. "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."
Clark Candy Production - North Side Factory
The Clark family sold the company and factory to Beatrice Foods in 1955, which in turn sold the company to Leaf Incorporated in 1983. By this time, the firm had fallen on hard times and shrank considerably. Clark products struggled to find a national foothold as competitors such as Hershey and Nestle grew, despite consistently high sales in Pittsburgh and the midwest.
Leaf, one of the largest candy companies in the world when it purchased Clark, announced in 1985 that it would close the Pittsburgh plant and move all operations to Chicago.
Fearing the loss of more than 100 jobs, Mayor Richard Caliguiri negotiated a package of financial incentives and workers agreed to wage concessions. As part of the agreement, the city purchased Leaf a new facility in O’Hara to replace the outdated North Side plant.
End of the Clark Company in Pittsburgh
Six years later, the same scenario played out. This time, a new buyer came to the rescue when local entrepreneur Michael Carlow purchased the D.L. Clark Company from Leaf in May 1991.
"All the Clark Bar needs is special attention, and it will do fine," Carlow told the Post-Gazette in 1992. "There is, after all, a certain magic about candy."
But Carlow was unable to turn the struggling confectionery around, and the Clark company went through several more owners without much progress. The old company's holdings were independently reorganized and renamed to Clark Bar America in 1995, and it was bought again by New England Confectionary Company, also known as Necco, in 1999.
Necco moved operations to Massachusetts and continues to produce the Clark Bar on a limited scale. Its coconut-coated sibling, the Zagnut Bar, was sold to Hershey, which currently produces it. Today, the historic D.L. Clark Company building houses the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and the old Clark Candy sign sits at the end of a parking lot.
Clark Brothers Chewing Gum Company
Clark Brothers Chewing Gum Company was spun off, in 1921, as a separate corporation. Clark's chewing gum spinoff, renamed Clark Gum Company, was sold in 1931 to Philip Morris, who held it until 1973, when they sold the rights to Clark Gum to Reed's Candy, an HP Hood subsidiary.
They would have the gum made through a cooperative arrangement with Amurol, a Wrigley Gum subsidiary. Reed's Candy was sold to Amurol in 1989, but the deal did not include the gum, retained by a newly-rechristened Clark Gum Company. Clark's Teaberry gum is currently marketed by First Source, LLC in Buffalo, New York, and made in Mexico.
The Iconic Clark Bar Today
The Clark Bar may now be more novelty candy than Halloween staple, but since NECC returned to the candy’s original formula, its appeal remains the same.
Guido Ferrari, who worked in the original factory for 44 years and spoke to the Post-Gazette when it finally closed, did his best to sum up what many of those outside Pittsburgh never quite seemed to grasp.
“The Clark Bar is nice and crispy. You can sink your teeth into it.”
Clark's Candies Throughout The Years
Clark Brothers' Chewing Gum Flavors
* Information copied in large part from P-G Digs article and enhanced *
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