The HULETT ORE UNLOADERS were invented by Clevelander GEORGE H. HULETT in 1898, as a means to quickly unload lake ore carriers. The 100-foot-tall, 800-ton machines were capable of shoveling up to 17 tons of iron ore, coal, and limestone in a single gulp from lake freighters through the use of cantilevered arms and massive buckets. The Huletts revolutionized the unloading process by reducing the time needed to empty a 600-foot freighter, such as the WILLIAM G. MATHER, from a whole week to half a day. The Huletts played a crucial role in Cleveland's ascendancy as a world leader of steel production and it is estimated that they unloaded some 100 million tons of material in their years of service. At one time, there were 77 of the giant machines in Great Lakes ports, 14 of them in Cleveland. The four remaining specimens, on the Cleveland and Pittsburgh dock on WHISKEY ISLAND, were built for the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) by the Wellman-Seaver-Morgan Co. of Cleveland in 1912.
By 1979, however, faster and more efficient self-unloading freighters that did not require a huge waterfront footprint slowly but surely displaced the Huletts in the Great Lakes. By 1992, 61 of the 66 U.S. carriers were self-unloading. For CONRAIL, which had inherited the Huletts from the PRR, the machines had become obsolete and too expensive to operate and maintain. After 80 years of service, the last four Hulett unloaders at the Cleveland Bulk Terminal (CBT) on Whiskey Island fell silent at the end of the 1992 shipping season, and competing interests groups began debating their future. With the Huletts out of service, Conrail and the CLEVELAND-CUYAHOGA COUNTY PORT AUTHORITY wanted to demolish the machines in order to make the Whiskey Island dock more efficient. Historic preservation interests, spearheaded by the North Cuyahoga Valley Corridor group, countered that the historic significance of the Huletts demanded their preservation. In June 1993, the Cleveland City Council granted landmark status to the Huletts, and, in August 1998, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) recognized them as a Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark. In late 1999, the business and preservation interests reached a compromise agreement. The remaining four Huletts were to be dismantled: two were to be sold for scrap and two were to be stored on Whiskey Island while an appropriate site and funding were secured for their re-assembly and display. Five years on, the Huletts remained in their dismantled state on Whiskey Island with no clear solution in sight. The courts have ruled that the preservationists, the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority, and the Army Corps of Engineers work out the necessary agreements concerning the ownership of the machinery, the financial liability for re-assembly and relocation, and the financial responsibility for maintaining any potential exhibit. There has been little movement on the issue, however, by the different actors and the disassembled Huletts remain on Whiskey Island.