What does a big government scandal have to do with a strange little teapot-shaped building sitting in tiny Zillah, Washington?
In 1915, President Wilson set aside the oil reserves in Teapot Dome, Wyoming and Elk Hills, California for the Navy to use as they were converting their ships from coal to Oil. Senator Albert Fall didn’t like the idea. When Warren Harding became president, he appointed Fall to the position of Secretary of the Interior. In 1922 Fall convinced the Secretary of the Navy to turn control of the oil fields over to him, and he promptly accepted bribes for the leases from wealthy oilmen. Once known, the Marines even had to be called in to settle the issue.
So even though the scandal did not directly involve the Zillah area, Jack Ainsworth built the 15-foot-tall Teapot Dome Gas Station in 1922 in his own version of a protest to the scandal, which some consider to be the greatest political scandal up until Watergate.
Trials on the scandal continued through the 1920’s, until 1927 when the Supreme Court ruled that the leases were not valid because they were obtained through corruption, and returned control of the oil reserves to the Navy. In 1929 Albert B. Hall was finally found guilty of bribery and sentenced to one year in prison and fined $100,000 (he accepted $400,000 in bribes).
The Teapot Dome used to sit next to Highway 12 but when Interstate 82 was built the dome was moved into the town of Zillah. The site even includes the original outhouse! However, the gas pumps are not originals. The Teapot Dome is now a visitor’s center. It was added to the National Historic Register in 1985 and is also on the list of the Most Endangered Properties List.
To see this unique roadside protest to government scandal, take I-82 to Exit 52 to Zillah. Follow the road up the hill, staying to the right. The beautifully restored red and white Teapot Dome can’t be missed sitting on the left side of the road.