What Is the Teapot Dome Scandal?

Teapot Dome was a scandal that took place during the administration of President Warren G. Harding. Albert Fall, the Secretary of the Interior, convinced Edwin Denby, the Secretary of the Navy, to transfer the Navy's oil reserves found in Teapot Dome, Wyo. and Elk Hills, Calif. to the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior.

Secretary Fall leased out those reserves to the Mammoth Oil Company, headed by Harry Sinclair, and the Pan American Petroleum Company, headed by E.L. Doheny, with no competitive bidding. For his efforts, Fall received huge kickbacks from both men. He received over $400,000 from Doheny, who had leased Elk Hills, and Sinclair, who had leased Teapot Dome. Some of the money came in the guise of interest-free loans.

The Senate opened an investigation into the scandal in April, 1922, with the panel chaired by Senator Thomas Walsh of Montana. Eventually, both Secretary Fall and Secretary Denby were forced to resign from the cabinet. While Denby was cleared of the charges against him, Fall was convicted of bribery and went to prison. He was the first ex-cabinet member to do so. Later, the Teapot Dome scandal led to the Supreme Court deciding that Congress had the right to force witnesses to testify before Congressional committees.