Under President Warren G. Harding was "greatest and most sensational scandal in the history of American politics" until the Watergate Scandal. In the early 20th century, the U.S. Navy switched from coal to oil as their primary fuel source. To ensure the Navy would have enough oil, several oil-producing areas were designated as Naval Oil Reserves, meaning only the government could use it. Early in 1922, President Harding transferred control of the oil reserves to the Department of the Interior.
Late in 1922, Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall leased the oil production rights of one location, Teapot Dome, Wyoming to Harry Sinclair of Mammoth Oil, a private oil company. He also leased another oil reserve, Elk Hills reserve, to Edward L. Doheny of Pan American Petroleum. In total, Fall made $404,000 ($5.34 million today). Fall did a poor job of keeping his money earning private, as his standard of living drastically increased.
So, an investigation was conducted, and Democrat Thomas J. Walsh led a lengthy inquiry. Fall kept covering up his tracks, and he made his leases seem legitimate. However, a question still loomed how Fall had become so rich so quickly. The investigation was winding down, and Walsh uncovered Doheny's $100,000 check to him. That discovery broke the scandal open and both reserves were returned to the Navy. In the end, Albert Fall was found guilty of accepting bribes, and this scandal damaged the already bad reputation of the Harding administration.