Growing up in the 70s, every kid’s decisions on what clothes to wear, music to listen to, movies to watch, and even food to eat were decided based on their coolness factor. While it may still make sense that Marvel comics were cooler than DC and The Rolling Stones were cooler than the Osmonds, it’s less clear why PowerHouse was a cooler candy bar than a PayDay or a Clark Bar. But it was. Its red, white, and blue wrapper seemed very modern, very young. The orange Clark Bar wrapper looked too American Graffiti, too much like something my parents would have bought.
When our tiny little southern California town got its first 7/11 store in 1970, a lot of products came with it that our locally owned markets had not carried. As a kid, my main concern was new candy, and the PowerHouse caught my eye. Along with the bright blue wrapper, there was the awesome name, which sounded tough – also a pretty important quality for kids who could wear no brand of pants other than Levis and who got teased about those Levis until they were broken in enough to have some respectable rips and fading.
None of this would have mattered though if PowerHouse bars didn’t taste good, and oh, they did. The wrapper stated it contained “Caramel * Peanuts * Fudge.” Really, it was the usual chocolate covered bar, but the filling was unique: a thick white nougat that tasted slightly nutty, slightly like maple. On a scale of chewiness, as determined by the best 11-year-old scientists of the time, it fell between the fluffy nougat of the 3 Musketeers bar and the hard nougat of a Baby Ruth. It was juuuuuust right.
And they were big! Originally, they came in a 4 oz. size – bigger than today’s King Size Snickers – that guaranteed a great sugar rush (and subsequent crash). The ones I started buying in 1970 were 2.2 oz, not as exciting but still much better than the usual 1.4 of most other candy bars. I recall them costing a nickel more but that just made them harder to get, and therefore cooler. Definitely worth the mile and a half walk from my home to the 7/11 with my Saturday allowance, all ready to blow on candy, kite kits, and slurpees.
In truth, the PowerHouse bar had been around a very long time. Originally made by the Walther H. Johnson Candy Company, they seem to have first appeared in the 1920s. In 1966 the Peter Paul company bought out Johnson and the PowerHouse brand along with it. They scaled the size back in keeping with the standards of store displays and vending machines, and they gave it the much more eye-catching wrapper. In the 80s as Peter Paul’s other bars like Mounds and Almond Joy became better sellers, the PowerHouse was scaled back even more. I have even seen measly 1.4 oz wrappers for sale by collectors.
As Marc Summers reported on an episode of the Food Network’s Unwrapped, the last PowerHouse rolled off the line in 1986. And Peter Paul Candy Company (with its name that always struck me as vaguely Beatlesque and thus, yeah, pretty cool) itself disappeared in just two years later, purchased by Hershey’s. So the PowerHouse bar joined that long line of extinct candies like the Caravelle, the Wispa, Space Food Sticks, the Marathon Bar, and E.T. Candy. But in these days of internet campaigns, some of them like the Wispa have fought their way back. Given enough nostalgia and sugar cravings, the PowerHouse just might get another chance.