Once you’ve seen the Hulett Ore Unloaders, it’s hard to forget them. They looked like giant, prehistoric steel grasshoppers sitting on Whiskey Island. I use the past tense, because they’re not there anymore.
The Huletts were invented in 1898 by George H. Hulett, who was born in Conneaut, Ohio, but grew up in Cleveland. The Huletts were revolutionary at the time, greatly speeding up the process used to unload lake ore carriers. According to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History: “They could completely unload a ship in 13 hours. Earlier, the same task had taken nearly a week. In their years of service, it is estimated that they unloaded some 100 million tons of material.”
The use of the Huletts spread to other areas around the Great Lakes, with many of them around Lake Erie in the Ports of Cleveland, Conneaut, Ashtabula, Huron, Toledo, and Lorain. The Huletts also played a big part in the development of the iron ore industry – and other related industries – in Ohio. Huletts were not suited for use near ocean waters, due to the rising and falling tides.
The Huletts became increasingly obsolete in the 1980s as the Great Lakes fleets converted to self-unloading ships. Cleveland last used a Hulett in 1992.
The Huletts were on the National Register of Historic Places, and also designated as a Historical Mechanical Engineering Landmark. But, as things usually go, this doesn’t seem to mean much to some. Conrail, who owned the Huletts, wanted them demolished to improve dock efficiency. Despite outrage by locals and preservationists, all the Huletts were dismantled, but two were retained for reconstruction at a later date, with the location to be named later.
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