Filed Under Industry

The Huletts

In an era of industrial expansion and technological advances, the Hulett Ore-Unloader helped Cleveland become one of the greatest steel manufacturing cities of the twentieth century. The invention, designed by George Hulett, was vital to the production and processing of iron ore into steel.

In 1844, rich iron ore deposits were discovered in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The ore was originally very expensive to transport, especially from places like the upper Great Lakes region to the Lake Erie coast. The high prices did not affect the demand for ore very much. Instead, the high demand encouraged investments and innovations in both transportation and handling techniques. New technologies and practices could give a company a vital edge in the growing iron ore industry. By 1853, the Cleveland Iron Mining Company shipped 152 tons of iron to the Sharon Iron Company in Pennsylvania. At this time, the ore was manually loaded and unloaded by men using shovels and wheelbarrows. It took about a week to unload a 300-ton shipment of iron ore using this method of raw manpower.

Before Hulett developed his invention, there were many men who realized that the existing method of unloading ships was not ideal nor very efficient. In the 1860s, a steam-hoisting engine was developed to lift and lower metal tubs in and out of the cargo holds. The metal tubs were filled with iron ore, but a group of men was still needed to shovel the ore into the vessels. Later, in the 1880s, a man named Alexander Brown improved upon the steam-hoist and named it the Brownhoist. The Brownhoist utilized a self-filling grab bucket, which could grab 1.5 tons of ore with each pass. Brown's invention significantly reduced the time and cost of unloading the ore. This helped lower the price of the product from 30-50 cents a ton to as little as 18 cents a ton. The Brownhoist thus increased the production of steel. Even so, large numbers of men were still needed to move the ore around the holds in order for the bucket to grab its full capacity.

Further developing on the ideas of others, George Hulett invented a machine that would forever change the production of steel in the United States. Born in 1846 in Conneaut, Ohio, Hulett moved to Cleveland with his family at an early age. After graduating from the Humiston Institute in 1864, he ran a general store in Unionville, Ohio, but returned to Cleveland in 1881. His return to the coast of Lake Erie prompted a string of ideas and innovations, leading to the development of several patents between the years of 1887 and 1906. Hulett secured more than two dozen of these patents, which included a variety of conveying and hoisting machinery. His greatest patent was developed in 1898 and would be in service a year later in his hometown of Conneaut, Ohio. It was to be known as the Hulett Ore-Unloader.

George Hulett secured a patent for his unloader and a patent for the bucket the machine needed to revolutionize the industry. The first-generation Hulett was steam powered and its bucket had a 10-ton "bite." In 1912, four second-generation Huletts were built on Whiskey Island. These Huletts were electrically powered and their buckets could grab 17 tons of ore at one time–a vast improvement on the Brownhoist's 1.5 tons from the 1880s. The price of ore now dropped below five cents a ton and helped launch Cleveland as one of the major steel producers in the world. The Huletts worked the docks of the Great Lakes for almost a century until self-unloading freighters appeared in the late 1970s. As late as 1999, six Huletts were still standing, including the four on Whiskey Island. However, despite a preservation effort that led to their historic designation, all but two Huletts were destroyed, and the other two were carefully disassembled so that they might be reconstructed in the future.


The Majesty of the Giants in Motion Architect Jim Gibans recalls the spectacle of the Hulett unloaders when they were still in use along the waterfront and doubts they could ever be as impressive even if saved. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection


The Huletts at Whiskey Island
The Huletts at Whiskey Island Two of the four Huletts at Whiskey Island unload ore from a freighter. After filling the scoops with 17 tons of ore from the ship, the ore is dropped into a hopper which then moves along a track to discharge the iron ore into a waiting rail car. Source: Cleveland Press Collection
Huletts in Buffalo, NY
Huletts in Buffalo, NY This picture of a battery of Huletts in Buffalo shows bulldozers being lowered into the cargo holds of freighters. The bulldozers were needed to push the remaining ore into piles for the Huletts to scoop out. This also reduced the manpower needed which further reduced the price of ore to below 5 cents a ton. Source: Great Lakes Industrial History Center
The Inventor
The Inventor Born in Conneaut, Ohio, in 1846, George Hulett later moved with his family to Cleveland. After spending some time as a construction engineer, Hulett invented the ore-unloading apparatus which revolutionized the industry. Source: Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections
A Hulett Schematic
A Hulett Schematic Two generations of Huletts were built. The first version was steam powered whereas the second was run by electricity. Originally designed in 1896, the first Hulett unloader was put into operation in Conneaut, Ohio, in 1899. Source: Library of Congress
The Last Huletts
The Last Huletts Two Huletts at LTV's Chicago Coke Plant removing coal from a barge on the Calumet river on May 5, 2000. These were the last Huletts in operation. Source: Library of Congress


Whiskey Island, Cleveland, OH


Gabriela Halligan and J. Csykes, “The Huletts,” Cleveland Historical, accessed April 20, 2024,