Classic Scandal of the Month: Teapot Dome


On the first Thursday of every month, we throw it back to a classic political scandal. Today: Teapot Dome!

The Scandal: Mad Max: BEYOND THE TEAPOT DOME: a tale of sensational bribery

The Scandalized: Secretary of the Interior Albert Bacon Fall, President Warren G. Harding

The Short Version: Back in the early 1900s, the United States ran on oil (some things never change). We needed lots for our Navy, and so the government stepped in and took over some oil fields.

Secretary of the Interior Albert Bacon Fall was in charge of handing out contracts to the oil companies that would work the fields. He wasn’t required by law to allow competitive bidding, so he didn’t. But contracts he handed out – including one in Teapot Dome, Wyoming – were pretty lucrative even considering the lack of competitive bidding.

You can probably guess why: Albert Bacon Fall was totally crooked. A subsequent Senate investigation (sparked by an angry letter from a Wyoming oil man who didn’t get the contract) uncovered a whole lot of bribery: Fall’s windfall works out to over $5 million in today’s dollars. Remember, folks, pride goeth before the Bacon Fall.

Fall was found guilty of bribery and of jury tampering, though the oil barons who bribed him escaped criminal charges. Fall became the first member of a presidential cabinet to go to prison, and the sitting president, Warren G. Harding, suffered an acute case of scandal-by-association. Until Watergate, Teapot Dome was regarded as the ultimate American political scandal (hipster political science majors still regard it as America’s most fully realized scandal, a beautiful case of pure bribery from the golden age before scandals got so mainstream and derivative).

Scandal Level: ELITE. 9/10 scandal, 10/10 name.

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