Harboring Huletts

Huletts in Conneaut, Ohio

George Hulett Has an Idea

Conneaut native George Hulett, who many people considered a rather eccentric inventor-type person, had an idea. Instead of droves of dock workers loading and unloading iron ore and other commodities, why couldn’t a machine be used to do the unloading and save labor, time, and costs? True, some companies used primitive loading and unloading machines, but they did not seem to be completely effective. It would take him some years of hardship and setbacks, but he persevered and invented until his name and machine became household words.

George Hulett was born on September 26, 1846 in Conneaut, Ohio. His family moved to Cleveland when he was twelve years old, and he graduated  from the Humiston Institute in 1864. After his graduation, he moved to Unionville, Ohio and operated a general store until he returned to Cleveland in 1881, where he and his brother, William, went into business together until George left in 1890.

In 1890, George explored the possibilities of the coal and iron ore handling industry and by the late 1890s he worked at the firm of Webster, Camp & Lane of Akron, Ohio. His company manufactured heavy equipment, including the new prototype of coal dumper for loading lake boats that George had invented. George continued his experiments and created his Hulett ore unloader in 1898. In 1899, George enjoyed the honor of seeing the first Hulette unloader,. 1,500 tons strong,  being used on the docks in his hometown of Conneaut.

George Hulett served as manager of the Ore and Coal Handling Department of Webster, Camp & Lane until the company went bankrupt about 1903. After the bankruptcy, Samuel Wellman of Cleveland, a prominent mechanical engineer acquired George’s patents. The Wellman Engineering Company and its successors, the Wellman-Seaver-Morgan Company and the McDowell-Wellman Company built most of the Hulett unloaders.

In 1918, George Hulett left Wellman retiring to Florida. He died January 12, 1923 in Daytona, Florida.

Huletts Dot the Horizon

In 1898, George Hulett saw his dream of a machine to efficiently and economically unload iron ore from lake freighters become a reality, when the first Hulett ore unloader was patented and produced. But he had a little help from Andrew Carnegie.

At this point in time, Andrew Carnegie had built a steel empire in America and his power and money extended throughout Ashtabula County and regional Ohio and Pennsylvania. Industry legend has it that when Carnegie heard that Webster, Camp & Lane Company in Akron had built a Hulett unloader at the Conneaut Dock at its own expense. George Hulett and his friends had convinced Andrew Carnegie to try the new idea, but Carnegie had his conditions. He said if the new machine worked he would buy it, but if it did not work Webster, Camp &Lane would have to get rid of it at their own expense.

In 1898, the Hulett was tested at Conneaut and it passed with flying colors. Andrew Carnegie bought it for $40,000 and ordered two more.

Operational in 1899, at first glance, the Hulett did not appear to be much of an improvement from the unloaders it was designed to replace. A large and cumbersome machine, it weighed 950 tons and measured 88 feet high and 36 feet wide at its base.  The Hulett’s main girder was 134 feet long and extended over five loading tracks. The digging leg was attached to a 94 foot long walking beam and the bucket was attached to a 58 foot long digging leg.

The Hulett operator entered the cargo hold of the vessel with the digging leg and bucket and controlled all operations of the digging device. People involved with Hulett operation agreed that it required about five years to train an efficient Hulett operator.

Despite its drawbacks, the Hulett proved its worth. It could dig 17 tons of ore from a vessel in fifty seconds. It was steam powered and did not require the expensive cables that other machines needed to operate.

By 1901, five Huletts operated on the Conneaut docks. In 1905, Lorain had five Hulettes and by 1908, the Superior dock in Ashtabula employed Huletts.   Altogether,  80 Hulett unloading machines were built between 1898 and 1960. In 1960, the last Huletts were built at Lorain, Ohio.

The Hulett era ended in the early 1980s when the steel industry began extensively using self unloaders for iron ore. By 1999, Cleveland had four Huletts, but they were not being used. The Ashtabula Huletts were scraped in the early 1980s. By 1992, five idle Huletts languished on the Conneaut docks.

Today, in May 2022, one of the Huletts and its accessory parts and documents resides in the Conneaut Area Historical Museum.