For generations, Hulett unloaders were a common sight along the lakefront in northern Ohio.
“Anyone around here who’s of a certain age remembers them,” says Will Friedman, president and CEO of the Port of Cleveland.
The cantilevered machines, said to resemble a grasshopper’s arm, revolutionized the Great Lakes shipping industry. As the 19th century ended, it took small armies of men days to unload a ship carrying ore from the Northern Great Lakes to various ports. But George Hulett came up with a steam-powered machine that greatly reduced the manpower and time needed to unload ships.
Hulett, working for Webster, Camp and Lane in Akron, came up with a patent for the unloader, and had them build one on the lakefront in his hometown of Conneaut. A demonstration for industrialist Andrew Carnegie inspired him to buy five. Transportation costs on the Great Lakes dropped precipitously, and industry boomed. But steel companies that used the ore they unloaded started to fold, and the Huletts themselves became obsolete, replaced by self-unloading ships. One by one, they disappeared from the Great Lakes.
The Whiskey Island Huletts unloaded their last ship in 1992. They’ve been recognized as Cleveland, national and industrial landmarks, but, in 2000, they were disassembled. Two can still be found in pieces on Whiskey Island.
Cumberland Development’s plans to develop North Coast Harbor included a commemorative display to the Huletts using some of the remaining parts, but, after Cumberland’s agreement with the city was dissolved, those plans faded away — much like the Huletts themselves.
“We’re still looking at how we can execute the plan in an alternate location, but the challenge is finding a place for a display to do them justice,”says Mera Cardenas, executive director of Canalway Partners.