Tempest at the Teapot
— Black Gold Highway — Salt Creek Oilfield —
Teapot Rock is an outcropping of sandstone whose general outline resembles a teapot—though harsh weather has collapsed both handle and spout. Taking place nearby, the Teapot Dome Scandal "erupted like a gusher" In 1924, rocking the nation.
The Teapot Dome investigation lasted nine years. It involved two congressional hearings as well as many trials, including a Supreme Court trial.
In 1909 President Taft set aside Teapot Dome Oilfield for the U.S. Navy's use in case of national emergency. This upset private oil companies who had already filed claims and begun extracting oil from the property. A decade later under President Harding, Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall took control of the naval oil reserves away from the Navy Department—an act that was later deemed to be illegal.
Secretary Fall leased Teapot Dome to Mammoth Oil (a subsidiary of Sinclair Oil and magnate Harry Sinclair) in 1922. The stated objective w as to extract oil from the ground before neighboring companies drained it and to store the oil for the Navy at convenient seaports. The problem was that Fall accepted bribes for leasing the field secretly and without competitive bidding.
A backlash of complaints flooded Washington from competing oil companies who wanted to bid on the lease. This sparked an investigation that drew momentum from other scandals brewing in the Harding administration. Extensive private expenditures by Secretary Fall fed suspicions of fraud.
Exposing back-room dealings among wealthy financiers along with high-ranking government
and military officials, the political storm astounded the nation. Meanwhile, President Harding died, and secretary fall resigned—as did secretary of the navy Edwin Denby and Attorney General Harry Daugherty. Receiving more media attention than any prior political
event, the disgrace threatened to throw the 1924 presidential election in favor of the Democrats.
Fate of the Teapot.
In 1924 Teapot Dome was placed in receivership. In 1927 control of the oil land was returned to the Navy, and the wells were sealed. In the previous five years of development, 87 oil
wells were drilled—including the biggest producer in the history of Wyoming. In fulfillment of their contract, Mammoth Oil also constructed a 700-mile pipeline from Teapot Dome to the Missouri River, which provided the first major outlet for Wyoming crude to national markets and was a major economic force for the region. Mammoth also built storage tanks, machine shops, and pumping stations at Teapot Dome, as well as Navy structures at a seaport in New Hampshire.
The Fall Guy.
In 1931 Albert Fall was convicted, fined, and imprisoned for committing a felony while in office—the first Cabinet officer to bear this shame. Although Fall was guilty of these crimes, he also became the "fall" guy for other guilty parties and other corruption in the Harding administration. Ironically, Harry Sinclair was acquitted of bribery but fined and sentenced to jail for contempt of court and of the Senate. The result of the Teapot Dome Scandal was to open the public's eyes to the close relationship between government and big business.
Black Gold Byway.
Visit information kiosks to discover more about the Salt Creek Oilfield.