Tom Henry, O. Henry, Henry the flirt, Henry “Hank” Aaron, Henry “H-Rod” Rodriguez. Many a fine Henry has been implicated in the forging of this historic bar, and though Juan Sánchez “Henry” Villa-Lobos Ramírez may claim in Highlander that, “There can be only one,” it’s my personal belief that a candy bar, like a litter of kittens, may have a whole lotta poppas.
Holding this to be true, Tom Henry of Arkansas City, Kansas (AKA “con sarn it!”) is certainly one, having sold the rights to his brilliantly titled signature bar “Tom Henry,” which he had launched in 1919, to Williamson Candy Company of Chicago in 1920. By all accounts, Williamson didn’t alter the bar’s formula but seemed to feel that the name “Tom” wasn’t swinging enough to spin the dough. Nestle (the bar’s current U.S. distributor) claims that the name “Oh Henry!” was inspired by a refrain often uttered in the Williamson factory in the early 20’s, by female employees enjoying the attentions of a local flirt named “Henry,” who used to hang around performing small favors. Others speculate that the name was chosen because of its similarity to the pen name of popular early 20th century American writer Sydney Porter, better known as “O. Henry.” It was precisely this sense of mystery that Williamson employee John Glossinger was able to cultivate and capitalize on when, of his own volition and despite the skepticism of Williamson, he waged an advertising campaign in support of “Oh Henry!,” which consisted of him placing bumper stickers on cars featuring the confection’s name and nothing else. As they’re wont when puzzled, Americans bought on and bought hard, “Oh Henry!” flourished and John Glossinger got a cookie and a pat on the head. The elaborate mythology of the bar only increased when it became associated, first with the great Hank Aaron and later with the pretty-good Henry Rodriguez. The practice of throwing “Oh Henry!” bars onto the field following one of “H-Rod’s” homeruns was famously adopted at his home stadiums, until an incident at Wrigley field in 2000– which resulted in left field being somewhat flooded by the bars– led to the arrest of four “Oh Henry!” wielding super-fans, largely discouraging the tradition.
History; so far I’ve written a long-winded and inept digest of the main points of interest for this unusually storied candy, and if you’re still reading you probably want to know how the thing tastes already. In an unusual bit of prescience and reflexivity, here goes. Firstly, if you’re purchasing the bar in the U.S., you’re actually getting two little bars. These are comprised of vanilla fudge, caramel and finely chopped peanuts coated in milk chocolate. Dense and compact, your jaw is going to get a workout chewing it into digestibility; better to savor the flavors. While the vanilla fudge falls victim to the plague of “I don’t taste vanilla in that vanilla-itis” affecting so many otherwise healthy candies, this can be forgiven due to the strength of the caramel and peanuts. Smooth and crunchy in all the right places and vibrantly flavored with a blend of sweet and smokey, I was (not unhappily) convinced that the fudge was peanut-flavored before my research again shamed my amateur palette. The milk chocolate coating then, doesn’t have to do much except look appetizing and melt in the mouth, and that’s exactly what it does, but I can’t help feeling the bar would be enriched immeasurably if it had ambitions to go above and beyond serving as window dressing. Some nice bars, overall. True to their heritage, the story of the “Oh Henry!” also has an optimistic twist ending. See, “Oh Henry” is manufactured by HERSHEY in Canada and boasts a different recipe, look, style and taste. Two bars, separated by the great Williamson buyout of ‘84 and living parallel lives across national lines. Surely someday the chance of their glad reformation will be retrieved from the realm of the great “what if.”
In the meantime…