The Teapot Dome Scandal

April 26, 2019

Wyoming Energy History

Teapot Dome in Wyoming

The 1920’s Teapot Dome Scandal was the most serious scandal in United States history prior to Watergate in the 1970’s. The scandal involved national security, big oil companies, and bribery and corruption throughout the U.S. government.

Prior to the Teapot Dome Scandal, the U.S. government realized that they needed a fuel source that was more reliable and portable than coal to fortify the Navy’s global presence. In 1909, the Navy administration decided to convert their fleet to petroleum fueled ships, giving them the ability to reach far greater distances than before. However, converting the ships did not come without worry. The government was concerned with the availability and longevity of petroleum supplies; if oil ran out, our Navy would be dead in the water. This concern prompted the Navy to ask the U.S. government to reserve oil reservoirs for naval use only, with one them being Teapot Dome.

The scandal came about when New Mexico Senator Alert Fall convinced President Harding to transfer the naval reserves to the Department of Interior, where they could be overseen and better protected. However, Fall was not interested in preserving and protecting the reservoirs, and made deals with oilmen Dohan and Sinclair, allowing them to drill the precious minerals.

In Wyoming, independent oilman Leslie Miller became suspicious of the activities going on at the reservoirs when he saw drilling equipment being brought into Teapot Dome. This gave rise to a massive investigation, with Fall being sent to federal prison and leases in the reservoirs being canceled due to the overwhelming evidence of bribery.

This article is provided by our partnership with the Wyoming State Historical Society.

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