Publish date:
Updated on
Year
1923

Secretary Fall resigns in Teapot Dome scandal

Albert Fall, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior, resigns in response to public outrage over the Teapot Dome scandal. Fall’s resignation illuminated a deeply corrupt relationship between western developers and the federal government.

Born in Kentucky in 1861, Albert Fall moved to New Mexico in 1887 because doctors told him the dry desert air would improve his health. Fall thrived in his new home, quickly building up a large ranching operation near Las Cruces and investing in silver mining and other ventures. By the turn of the century, Fall was a well-respected and powerful western businessman, and he used his considerable resources to win a seat in the U.S. Senate when New Mexico became a state in 1912.

In Washington, D.C., Fall quickly discovered the enjoyable prerogatives of power. He made several powerful allies, including President Warren G. Harding, who appointed him secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior in 1921. As secretary of the interior, Fall was responsible for managing the government’s vast western land holdings in the public interest. Unfortunately, Fall’s close ties with western developers tempted him to abuse his position. Ostensibly acting to ensure adequate oil supplies for the navy in the event of war, Fall set aside a large oil deposit in Wyoming known as Teapot Dome. Secretly, he then began to sign leases with big western oilmen allowing them to exploit the supposed reserve.

When news of the secret leases leaked out, Fall claimed he had signed them with the best interests of the public in mind. Subsequent investigations, though, threw Fall’s integrity into question when they disclosed that many of his investments in New Mexico had recently collapsed, and he was on the verge of bankruptcy. Desperate for money, Fall had accepted “loans” of about $400,000 from the same oil men he granted access to Teapot Dome, two of whom were old friends from his New Mexico mining days. Fall insisted that the loans were unrelated to his granting of the Teapot Dome oil leases, but conservationists and government reformers were outraged. Such conflicts of interest were inevitable, they argued, when western developers were given control over federal agencies responsible for managing western natural resources.

Forced to resign his office in shame, Fall spent the rest of his life trying to rebuild his fortune and redeem his tarnished reputation. He died in near poverty in 1944.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Georgia enters the Union

Georgia votes to ratify the U.S. Constitution, becoming the fourth state in the modern United States. Named after King George II, Georgia was first settled by Europeans in 1733, when a group of British debtors led by English philanthropist James E. Oglethorpe traveled up the ...read more

First censuring of a U.S. senator

Senator Timothy Pickering, a Federalist from Massachusetts, becomes the first senator to be censured when the Senate approves a censure motion against him by a vote of 20 to seven. Pickering was accused of violating congressional law by publicly revealing secret documents ...read more

Reconquest of Spain

The kingdom of Granada falls to the Christian forces of King Ferdinand V and Queen Isabella I, and the Moors lose their last foothold in Spain. Located at the confluence of the Darro and Genil rivers in southern Spain, the city of Granada was a Moorish fortress that rose to ...read more

Callas walks out of performance

On January 2, 1958, celebrated soprano Maria Callas walks off after the first act of a gala performance of Bellini’s Norma in Rome, claiming illness. The president of Italy and most of Rome’s high society were in the audience, and Callas, known for her volatile temperament, was ...read more

U.S.-Russia detente ends

On this day in 1980, in a strong reaction to the December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, President Jimmy Carter asks the Senate to postpone action on the SALT II nuclear weapons treaty and recalls the U.S. ambassador to Moscow. These actions sent a message that the age of ...read more

Stephen Crane’s boat sinks

On this day in 1897, American writer Stephen Crane survives the sinking of The Commodore off the coast of Florida. He will turn the harrowing adventure into his classic short story “The Open Boat” (1897). The 25-year-old writer had gained international fame with the publication ...read more

Congress publishes the Tory Act

The Continental Congress publishes the “Tory Act” resolution on this day in 1776, which describes how colonies should handle those Americans who remain loyal to the British and King George. The act called on colonial committees to indoctrinate those “honest and well-meaning, ...read more