Teapot Dome Scandal
The presidential administration of WARREN G. HARDING, from 1921 to 1923, was characterized by scandal and corruption, the most controversial of which was the Teapot Dome oil scandal.
Conservation was a popular cause throughout the first quarter of the twentieth century and was encouraged by various presidents. As a result, several oil reserves for the exclusive use of the U.S. Navy were established in Wyoming and California. The oil was kept in storage places called domes, one of which, located near Casper, Wyoming, was christened Teapot Dome due to a rock formation in the area that resembled a teapot.
Although many politicians favored the establishment of the oil reserves, others believed they were superfluous. One opponent of the oil policy was Senator Albert B. Fall of New Mexico, who sought to make the reserves accessible to private industry.
In 1921, Senator Fall was selected as secretary of the interior in the Harding cabinet. Authority over the oil fields was transferred from the Department of the Navy to the INTERIOR DEPARTMENT, with the consent of Edwin Denby, Secretary of the Navy. Fall was in a position to lease the oil reserves, without public bidding, to private parties. In 1922, Harry F. Sinclair, president of the Mammoth Oil Company, received rights to Teapot Dome, and Edward L. Doheny, a friend of Fall and prominent in the Pan-American Petroleum and Transport Company, leased the Elk Hills fields in California. Fall received approximately four hundred thousand dollars in exchange for his favoritism.
Senator Thomas J. Walsh of Montana initiated a Senate investigation of the oil reserve lands at the recommendation of Senator ROBERT M. LAFOLLETTE of Wisconsin. Eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the leases inoperative, and the oil fields at Teapot Dome and Elk Hills were returned to the U.S. government.
Sinclair served nine months in prison for CONTEMPT of court, but both he and Doheny were found not guilty of BRIBERY. Fall, who had left the cabinet in 1923, was found guilty in 1929 of accepting bribes; his punishment was one year in prison and a fine of $100,000. President Harding died in office in 1923, never aware of the notoriety of his administration.
Stratton, David H. 1998. Tempest over Teapot Dome: The Story of Albert B. Fall. Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press.