On our trip to Yakima, it wasn’t all beer and searching for wine. We also had a chance to finally visit a piece of Americana that I have been wanting to see for years. My friend Sarah at The Practical Historian (sorry Sarah, no brochure) will appreciate this one! The Teapot Dome Service Station.
The Teapot Dome Service Station was built in 1922, in protest of the Teapot Dome Scandal that was being investigated in Congress at the time. I’m sure you have all heard of the Teapot Dome Scandal, but do you really know what it was all about?
In the early 20th century, the Navy converted its main power source from coal to oil fuel, and several oil fields were placed under Naval control to ensure that there would be sufficient supply for Naval operations. One such field was the Teapot Dome Oil Field in Wyoming. Others were in California.
All was going swimmingly until US Secretary of the Interior, Albert Bacon Fall, convinced President Harding to transfer control over the oil fields to the Department of the Interior from the Navy (ownership remained with the Navy). Once Fall was in control of the fields, he quickly leased the Teapot Dome Oil Field and the two in California to private oil companies at very low rates without putting them out for competitive bidding.
Contrary to what you might be thinking, it was determined that the leases were legal. Fall indicated that he did not put the leases out for competitive bidding in the interest of National Security – because the fields were owned by the Navy, a competitive bidding process would have garnered publicity that would have jeopardized national security. I’m not sure I buy that argument, but apparently Congress did.
The problem lay in the fact that Fall accepted money from the oil companies he leased the land to. A lot of money. He covered his tracks fairly well as the money changed hands, and the investigation fumbled along for a couple of years, with Fall covering more tracks as he went. Let’s just say some documents disappeared (this is probably where the execs from Enron learned their tricks…).
But ultimately, Albert Fall couldn’t hide the fact that his standard of living had abruptly increased. Let that be a lesson – people notice if you suddenly and inexplicably become a multi-millionaire and start living high on the hog… Fall ended up serving 1 year in prison after his convictions for conspiracy and accepting bribes, and the leases were ultimately invalidated.
Jack Ainsworth, in tiny, little Zillah, Washington followed the news on the scandal and decided to make a statement – in the form of a 15 foot tall teapot shaped service station with the spout and handle made from sheet metal. It was operated as a service station for many years, and eventually had to be moved for the construction of the freeway in 1978. By then, it had earned its place in the hearts of the residents of Zillah, and was moved 1.2 miles to its current location.
In 1985, it was listed on the National Register for Historic Places. Residents have been working on raising money to restore it and hope to move it to downtown Zillah and open it as a tourism office one day. The Teapot Dome Service Station is almost 100 years old now! Sounds like the “little teapot that could.”