Teapot Dome Scandal

views updated May 17 2018

Teapot Dome Scandal

The Teapot Dome scandal was the most notorious of several political scandals that erupted during the 1920s. The bribery case and its investigation affected even the White House.

When Warren G. Harding (1865–1923; served 1921–23) entered the White House in 1921, he appointed as secretary of the interior (federal department responsible for looking after government-owned land) U.S. senator Albert B. Fall (1861–1944) of New Mexico . Fall was an anticonservationist in an era when conservation (protection and restoration of the natural environment) was emerging as an issue of interest for many Americans.

Oil-rich Wyoming land

Conservationists sought to preserve certain areas from development, much to the consternation of big business. Among these areas was a place in Wyoming called Teapot Dome. This area was off-limits to private oil companies that would have liked to drill for and sell the oil located beneath the Teapot Dome land. Since the oil would eventually be used to fuel warships, the reserves were under control of the Department of the Navy .

Fall convinced Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby (1870–1929) to transfer those western oil-reserve rights to the Interior Department. Then Fall granted oil drilling rights to several of his personal friends in the oil industry. Conservationists as well as some members of Congress suspected wrongdoing, and an investigation was launched. Public hearings began on October 23, 1923.

A suspicious loan

Fall claimed to have “borrowed” around $100,000 from Edward L. Doheny of Pan-American Petroleum and Transport Company. Fall awarded Doheny drilling rights for two naval reserve areas in California. Henry Sinclair of Mammoth Oil Company was granted the drilling rights at Teapot Dome. That “borrowed” money was considered bribery by the court, and Fall became the first U.S. cabinet official ever sentenced to prison for an illegal act committed while in office.

Denby was forced to resign, and two others suspected of being involved in the scandal committed suicide. By this time, Harding had died of a heart attack. His vice president, Calvin Coolidge (1872–1933; served 1923–29), took over as president and remained unscathed by the scandal, which in no way involved him.

Teapot Dome Scandal

views updated May 11 2018


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.

further readings

Stratton, David H. 1998. Tempest over Teapot Dome: The Story of Albert B. Fall. Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press.

Teapot Dome Scandal

views updated May 21 2018

Teapot Dome Scandal (1924) Corruption scandal involving the US government during President Harding's administration over the fraudulent leasing of oil reserves. The secretary of the interior, Albert Fall, was convicted of accepting bribes, and served one year in prison.

Teapot Dome

views updated May 29 2018

Teapot Dome the name of a naval oil reserve in Wyoming, irregularly leased by the US government in 1922, and referred to allusively in connection with the resulting political scandal.