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Teapot Dome Scandal

Warren Harding

Teapot Dome Scandal: Warren Harding was the 29th American President who served in office from March 4, 1921 to August 2, 1923. One of the important events that erupted during his presidency was the Teapot Dome Scandal.

Definition and Summary of the Teapot Dome Scandal
Summary and definition:
The Teapot Dome Scandal (1921-1923), also referred to as the Elk Hills Scandal, caused a nationwide outrage that involved national security, big oil companies and extensive bribery and corruption in the Harding administration.

The Teapot Dome Scandal surrounded the oilfields, designated as Naval Oil Reserves, in Teapot Dome, Natrona, Wyoming and Elk Hills of the San Joaquin Valley, California. The men associated with the Teapot Dome Scandal were cabinet members Albert B. Fall, Secretary of the Interior and Edwin C. Denby, Secretary of the Navy and oil moguls Harry F. Sinclair and Edward L. Doheny.

Teapot Dome Scandal Facts for kids: Fast Fact Sheet
Fast, fun facts and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's) about the Teapot Dome Scandal.

What was the Teapot Dome Scandal? The Teapot Dome Scandal involved big oil companies, national security, bribery and corruption in the Harding administration.

What did the Teapot Dome Scandal center around? The Teapot Dome Scandal, or the Elk Hills Oil Fund Scandal, centered around the oilfields, designated as Naval Oil Reserves, in Teapot Dome, Natrona, Wyoming and Elk Hills of the San Joaquin Valley, California.

Who was most closely linked to the Teapot Dome Scandal? The men most closely linked to the Teapot Dome Scandal were cabinet member Albert B. Fall, Secretary of the Interior and Edwin C. Denby, Secretary of the Navy. Both were members of Harding's Ohio Gang,  who received "loans" (bribes) to lease land in Teapot Dome and Elk Hills to oil companies owned by Harry F. Sinclair and Edward L. Doheny.

Facts about Teapot Dome Scandal
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Teapot Dome Scandal.

Why was called the Teapot Dome Scandal? It was called the 'Teapot Dome Scandal' after the large rock formation, that bears a resemblance to a teapot, in Natrona, Wyoming in the vicinity of the Teapot Dome and Naval Oil Reserve. A dome is a name for geological formation (mass of granite) that traps oil underground between layers of rock, with the upper layer bent upward to form a dome.

What were Naval Oil Reserves? Naval Oil Reserves were federally owned lands in locations where known oil deposits most likely existed. Oil was important to the United States Navy as warships had been recently been converted from coal power to oil (petrol) power.

Naval Oil Reserves were set aside, and could not be drilled unless there was a national emergency. This land was of great value and oilmen coveted the opportunity to start drilling for oil in these areas.

One of the Naval Oil Reserves was set aside in northern Natrona County, Wyoming at the place called Teapot Dome. Another Naval Oil Reserve had been set aside in the Elk Hills of the San Joaquin Valley, California.

When Republican Warren G. Harding became President he surrounded himself with a group of old friends that became known as the Ohio Gang.

Albert B. Fall: One of these friends was Albert B. Fall (1861-1944), who President Harding appointed to his cabinet as Secretary of the Interior.

Edwin C. Denby: Another member of the Ohio Gang was Edwin C. Denby  (1870-1929)  who President Harding appointed to his cabinet as Secretary of the Navy.

Albert Fall was able to convince President Harding and cabinet member Edwin Denby, Secretary of the Navy, to allow the transfer of the Naval Oil Reserves from the Navy to the Department of the Interior.

In 1921 Albert Fall, the Secretary of the Interior had gained control of the valuable oil fields, that had been set aside by the government for use by the navy, in Teapot Dome, Wyoming and Elk Hill, California.

Once the oilfields were under his control, Albert Fall made secret deals with two close friends and prominent oilmen, Edward Doheny and Harry Sinclair. Albert Fall received personal "loans" (bribes) of over $400,000 to lease land in Teapot Dome and Elk Hills.

Harry Sinclair: Harry Sinclair (1876 - 1956) was a wealthy American industrialist and the Founder of Sinclair Oil. Albert Fall granted an oil lease to Sinclair Oil in Teapot Dome Wyoming without competitive bidding.

Edward Doheny: Edward Doheny (1856 - 1935) was another U.S. oil tycoon, the owner of Pan American Western Petroleum Company, based in California. Albert B. Fall received a "gift" of $100,000 in connection with Doheny obtaining a lease of 32,000 acres of government land, the Elk Hills Naval Oil Reserve, in California.

The lucrative oilfield deals did not remain secret for very long. The sighting of Sinclair Oil trucks hauling drilling equipment into the Teapot Dome Naval Oil Reserve was reported to Democratic Wyoming Governor Leslie Miller. The governor asked the Democrat Wyoming U.S. Senator John B. Kendrick to look into the matter. As a result, Sen. John B. Kendrick referred the issue to a special Senate investigating committee.

By 1923, rumors of corruption in Harding's administration and the Ohio Gang had begun to surface.

Then, on August 2, 1923, President Warren Harding died unexpectedly of a heart attack and Calvin Coolidge became the new president.

The United States Senate established a Committee on Public Lands and Surveys to conduct hearings into the circumstances surrounding the government oil lease. The investigation began in October 1923

In 1924 the senate inquiry concluded that the Teapot Dome and Elk Hills oil leases had been fraudulent and corrupt.

Both Albert Fall and Edwin Denby were forced to resign from office as a result of the Teapot Dome scandal, however, President Harding was not deemed to have a role in the illegal dealing.

The finding of fraud and corruption during the investigation led to a number of civil lawsuits and criminal charges against the men involved in the Teapot Dome Scandal.

Albert B. Fall was fined $100,000 and served a year in jail. Albert Fall was the first cabinet member in American history to be imprisoned for crimes committed while in office.

Edwin C. Denby was charged not with fraud but with neglect of duty and resigned from office.

In 1927 the US Supreme Court declared the Sinclair oil lease had been corruptly obtained and ordered it canceled. Harry Sinclair was fined and sentenced to 6 and a half months at the District of Columbia jail.

Edward Doheny was charged with bribing Albert Fall but, in 1930, he was acquitted.

The Teapot Dome Scandal was regarded as the "greatest and most sensational scandal in the history of American politics" and remained so until the Nixon administration and the shocking events of the  Watergate Scandal.

US American History
1913-1928: WW1 & Prohibition

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