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History of the Hulett


Hulett Picture Panel donated by Carol Johnson in Memory of Donald Johnson

The Hulett was invented by George Hulett of Conneaut, Ohio in the late 19th century; he received a patent for his invention in 1898. The first working machine was built the following year at Conneaut Harbor in Conneaut, Ohio. It was successful, and many more were built along the Great Lakes, especially the southern shore of Lake Erie to unload boats full of taconite from the iron mines near Lake Superior.  A total of approximately 75 Huletts were built. Those in Ashtabula were “third generation” units. By 1908, Ashtabula had eight Huletts


The Hulett machine revolutionized iron ore shipment on the Great Lakes. Previous methods of unloading lake freighters, involving hoists and buckets and much hand labor, cost approximately 18¢/ton. Unloading with Huletts cost only 5¢/ton. Unloading only took 5–10 hours, as opposed to days for previous methods. Lake boats changed to accommodate the Hulett unloader, and became much larger, doubling in length and quadrupling in capacity. The additional unloading capacity they brought helped permit a greater than doubling of the ore traffic in the 1900–1912 period. 


The “Hulett operator” sat in a small booth just above the bucket inside the digging leg. He controlled the digging device going in and out of the vessel’s hold. Once out of the hold he would “trolley” the entire Hulett back from the vessel. He would do this by moving back along the main girder so he could dump his loaded bucket into a “hopper”. The “larry car operator” under the main beam would weigh, then dump the ore from the hopper into the waiting rail cars below. The workmen who operated the Hulett uploaders were known as Ore Hogs. 


The lake’s Huletts were used until about 1992, when self-unloading boats were standard on the American side of the lake. All have since been scrapped. In 1999, only six remained.  All of the Huletts in Ashtabula were scrapped in the early 1980’s.


The grab bucket and operator’s booth forming one of Ashtabula’s Hulett unloaders is preserved at Point Park. Visitors can climb a short staircase, step in, and imagine that they are working the controls. It was donated by the A & B Dock Company to the Maritime Museum. 

History Narrative Compilation by Carol Johnson


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