Teapot Dome Scandal: Definition, Summary & Facts

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  • 0:00 The Harding Presidency
  • 1:19 The Teapot Dome Scandal
  • 3:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason McCollom
In 1923, the administration of U.S. President Warren G. Harding became embroiled in the Teapot Dome Scandal, one of many examples of corruption during his tenure. Learn about the scandal and test your knowledge with a quiz.

The Harding Presidency

Warren G. Harding, the 29th President of the United States from 1921 to 1923 is one of America's most colorful presidents. He wrote amorous love letters to his mistress, drank and gambled in the White House and, as his Secretary of Commerce and future president Herbert Hoover admitted, he was not 'a man with either the experience or the intellectual quality that the position needed.' Nor could the President, the Secretary continued, control the 'terrible corruption by his playmates.' The Teapot Dome Scandal of 1923 was the worst of many political scandals of Harding's tenure and of the 1920s in general.

Elected in 1920, Harding, a congressman from Ohio, was one of the three Republican presidents of the decade, and each touted limited government and conservative policies on tariffs, taxes, immigration restriction, and labor. Harding and his successors also promoted American business. Harding called for a 'return to normalcy,' which meant support for the pursuit of private profit, and his vice president proclaimed, 'The chief business of the American people is business.' The U.S. Chamber of Commerce noted, 'Never before, here or anywhere else, has a government been so completely fused with business.'

The Teapot Dome Scandal

Unfortunately, this emphasis on unregulated business activity merged with Harding's propensity for handing out government jobs to his friends, which were referred to as the 'Ohio gang.' One of these men, Harding's Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall, used Teapot Dome, a government-owned oil field in Wyoming, to enrich himself. Teapot Dome was supposed to be set aside to ensure warships always had a predictable supply of fuel. But then in the early 1920s the Department of the Interior took control of the oil field from the Department of the Navy. Secretary Fall was deeply in debt and years overdue in paying taxes, and so he concocted a scheme. He handed out and approved generous federal contracts to his close friends who were also head executives of powerful oil companies. So, instead of Teapot Dome being used as a backup source of fuel for the U.S. Navy, Fall used his connections to illegally sell access to the oil field. These bribes brought Secretary Fall over $400,000, which is equal to several million dollars today.

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