Teapot Dome Scandal
The Teapot Dome Scandal was the largest of numerous scandals in the United States during the presidency of Warren Harding. Teapot Dome is an oil field located on public land in Wyoming reserved for emergency use by the U.S. Navy. Oil companies and politicians claimed the reserves were not necessary and that the oil companies alone could supply the Navy in the event of shortages.
In 1922, Interior Secretary Albert B. Fall accepted $404,000 in gifts and loans from oil company executives in return for leasing the rights to the oil at Teapot Dome to Mammoth Oil and Pan American Petroleum without asking for competitive bids. The leases were legal, but the gifts were not.
Fall's attempts to keep the gifts secret failed, and on April 14, 1922, The Wall Street Journal exposed the bribes. Fall denied the charges, but when one of the oil company executives revealed that he had given the secretary a $100,000 interest-free loan, the jig was up.
In 1927, the Supreme Court ruled that the oil leases had been illegally obtained, and the U.S. Navy regained control of Teapot Dome and other reserves. Fall was found guilty of bribery in 1929, fined $100,000, and sentenced to one year in prison. He was the first cabinet member imprisoned for his actions while in office.
President Harding was not aware of the scandal at the time of his death in 1923, but it contributed to his administration being considered one of the most corrupt in history.
On the next page, we'll turn to an even juicier scandal across the Atlantic.