Tag Archives: Lake Freighters

Preserving The Huletts

Location: 5400 Whiskey Island, CLeveland, OH; Proposed Dock 32 just West of the East Ninth Street Pier, Cleveland,Ohio













Diagram of Hulett and its components.

The Hulett ore-unloader was developed in the late 1890’s by George Hulett of Ohio.  Hulett recieved numerous patents for his invention to include the bucket and the arm which moved up and down to allow the bucket to reach the bottom hold of a cargo ship.  The Hulett sat on railroad tracks in order for the Hulett to move side to side while the ship remained still.

Source: Historic American Engineering Record. Library of Congress.

Construction of Hulett

A total of 75 Huletts were built between 1898 and 1960.  Constructed in 1946, Huletts also operated at the Erie Railroad dock on the old river bed in Cleveland.

Source: Cleveland Press Collection.

Operating a Hulett

Operation of the Hulett was done by a single person sitting in the leg of the Hulett just above the bucket.  In 1912, 4 Huletts were built on Whiskey Island and powered by electricity compared to earlier Huletts which were steam powered.  The operator controlled the entire machine with levers located inside the leg of the Hulett.

Source: Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections. Box 33.

The bucket with a 17 ton “bite”

The largest of the different size buckets made for the Huletts swooped 17 tons of ore in one pass.  This dramatically increased the speed in which a lake freighter was unloaded while lowering the price of iron-ore from 18 cents a ton to 5 cents per ton.  What used to take a gang of men almost a week to complete now was done in a half a day.  The Hulett bucket, patented in 1900, changed from a 10 ton capacity to a 17 ton capacity which operated until 1992 on Whiskey Island.

Source: Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections. Box33.

Hulett lowering dozer into freighter

To completely empty the holds of freighters the Hulett lowered a bulldozer into the cargo hold.  The bulldozer pushed the ore into piles for the bucket to grab while men shoveled ore from places the dozer could not reach.  The fact that the bucket could lower a bulldozer gives us a reference to the shear size and capacity of this magnificent machine.

Source:  Historic American Engineering record. Library of Congress.


Huletts waiting idly to do their job

Always working in two’s or three’s, the Huletts moved side to side on rail tracks while a freighter idles patiently.  Huletts only operated on the Great Lakes due to their inability to move up and down with the oceans’ tides.

Source: Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections. Ports and Harbors-Cleveland-Docks Folder.


Four Huletts unload a freighter on Whiskey Island

Soon after the Huletts were invented, lake freighters were designed to accommodate the new machines that would be unloading their cargo.  Four Huletts were installed on Whiskey Island in 1912 and continued to operate until 1992.

Source: Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

Possible future of Huletts

With the Mather already preserved and utilized as a museum at Dock 32, efforts are being made to incorporate the two remaining Huletts.  The Huletts unloaded cargo from the Mather from 1925 until 1980 when the Mather was put out of service.  The Friends of The Hulett Ore Unloaders photoshopped the Huletts with the Mather to depict what they would look like if resurrected at Dock 32 some day.

Source: Friends of The Hulett Ore Unloaders and Steamer William G. Mather.

In the late 1890’s, a mechanical engineer by the name of George Hulett was attempting to change the way ore was unloaded around the Great Lakes.  At first, ore had to be shoveled by a slew of men into buckets that were hoisted out of the cargo holds of ships.  By 1880 another man from Ohio invented the predecessor to the Huletts; these were known as Brown unloaders, for Alexander Brown who invented it.  The Brown hoist still required a large labor force to shovel the ore into buckets.  By 1899 George Hulett received numerous patents including the one for his unloader which was first put into service at Conneaut Harbor in Conneaut, Ohio.

Initially the Huletts were steam-powered when they first came into production in 1899.  The second generation Huletts, which operated until 1992, were electrically powered.  With the invention of the Huletts, what use to take a gang of men a week to unload, now could be done in less than a day.  The price of ore dropped dramatically from 18 cents a ton to 5 cents per ton. In all, 75 Huletts were built and operated around the Great Lakes region.  Four Huletts unloaded ore and other raw materials from Great Lakes barges on the Cleveland and Pennsylvania (C&P) Ore docks located at 5400 Whiskey Island, Cleveland, Ohio.  The four Huletts on Whiskey Island were built in 1911 and operational by 1912. Not only did the Huletts speed the process by which ore was unloaded, they were the key determining factor on the design of new ships.  Freighters were being built to accommodate the giant jaws of the Huletts that would be unloading their cargo.

Huletts operated all around the Great Lakes region but the majority of the 75 were located on the southern shores of Lake Erie.  With Cleveland being a major hub for transportation of ore it is no surprise that so much ore passed through its ports on its way to cities in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.  With the invention of the Huletts, ore output from the Superior mines rose from 19 million tons in 1900 to more than 48 million tons by 1912.  This no doubt had a hand in making Cleveland the fifth largest city in the nation in 1920. Increases in the ore shipment led to rapid growth in the steel industry which in turn brought people up from the south looking for employment.  The Huletts on Whiskey Island continued to operate well into the 20th century.

New freighters being outfitted with a self-unloading apparatus in the late 1970’s signaled the end of an era for the Huletts.  At the end of the 1992 shipping season the Huletts unloaded their last cargo.  Almost immediately after their decommissioning the Huletts were designated landmarks.  By 1997 they were listed on the National Register of Historic Places along with the numerous buildings that kept them in operation.  The Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority purchased the dock in 1997 and a year later requested a permit for demolition.  That permission was granted in 1998 and all four Huletts were removed.  A citizens group called the Committee to Save Cleveland’s Huletts ran a grass roots campaign to save the Huletts and succeeded in salvaging 2 of them.  The preservation group would like to see the Huletts resurrected alongside the William G. Mather at Dock 32 in Cleveland.  For more than fifty years the Huletts unloaded cargo from the Mather.  With the city of Cleveland having major budget issues the fate of the Huletts is unknown.  For now they remain disassembled and buried under waterproof paper and tarps on the southwest corner of Whiskey Island.