Feb 22

Oil & Politics: Harding’s Watergate

Monday, February 22, 2016 12:01 AM

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Teapot Dome, Wyoming, was once the location of a naval oil field—and the name of a forgotten 1920s political scandal that took place there.

The naval oil reserves were exactly that: petroleum reserved specifically for the Navy. However, when President Warren G. Harding nominated Senator Albert Fall as Secretary of the Interior, this changed. Fall convinced President Harding to transfer ownership from the Navy to his department, and then abused his position to allow two oil men, Edward Doheny and Harry Sinclair, to drill there in exchange for substantial bribes. Their illegal arrangement was eventually discovered and the property was returned to the Navy. President Harding’s sudden death in 1923 meant that he escaped prosecution, but Fall was not so lucky: He was convicted and sentenced to one year in prison. Doheny and Sinclair both escaped conviction.

The photos below, generously donated by David M. Jalbert, remind us that political scandals are not a modern invention. His father, Rear Admiral Horace H. Jalbert, served in the Navy during World Wars I and II. When he returned from World War II, he moved his family near Teapot Dome, where he became Inspector of Petroleum and Oil Shall Reserves in Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah before retiring in 1951.

The photos show the remnants of the structures built and left behind once the scandal broke.

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