From Ohio History Central
Albert B. Fall served as Secretary of the Interior of the United States of America during President Warren G. Harding's administration.
In 1920, Harding, an Ohioan, won election as president of the United States of America. As president, for the most part, Harding proved to be a poor manager of the federal government. He delegated authority to his cabinet officials. These men became known as the "Ohio Gang,"because they supposedly were a gang of thieves from Ohio. In reality, most of the men linked to the Ohio Gang were not from Harding's home state.
Fall was one of the members of the Ohio Gang, although he was not from Ohio. He was born on November 26, 1861, in Frankfort, Kentucky. As a child, Fall worked in a cotton mill to help support his family. He also found employment in several other positions, including as a drugstore clerk and as a teacher once he entered his late teens. Fall eventually moved to Mexico, where he hoped that a drier climate would help him cope with a chronic respiratory problem. In Mexico, he worked in mines, and once he accumulated some money, Fall then moved to Clarkesville, Texas, where he studied law. Fall married, and to support his family, he eventually returned to the mines. By 1887, Fall and his wife, Emma G. Morgan, had two infant children. While Fall was working in the mines, members of this young family contracted tuberculosis. Fall then ended his career as a miner and moved his family to Las Cruces, New Mexico.
In Las Cruces, Fall opened a bookstore and also worked as a broker in real estate, mining, and livestock. By 1889, he had completed his legal training and had passed the bar exam in the New Mexico Territory. In Las Cruces, Fall also embarked upon a political career. As a member of the Democratic Party, in 1888, he lost election to the New Mexico Territory's House of Representatives. Fall lost by fewer than fifty votes. In 1889, he won election as the Irrigation Commissioner for Dona Ana County, New Mexico, and the following year, Fall won election to the New Mexico Territory's House of Representatives, defeating the man whom he had lost to two years earlier.
In March 1893, Fall became an Associate Judge on the Third District Court of the New Mexico Territory. He remained in this position for less than two years, as he was accused of intentionally miscounting election returns to favor a Democratic Party candidate. Fall then resumed his own law practice, although he did fight in the Spanish-American War in 1898 and 1899. Upon the end of his military duty, Fall opened a new law practice in El Paso, Texas.
Following the Spanish-American War, Fall returned to politics. Despite having a law practice in Texas, Fall won election to the New Mexico House of Representatives in 1903. By 1904, Fall, a member of the Democratic Party, switched his party allegiance to the Republican Party. In 1912, Fall became one of New Mexico's first two United States Senators. He served in the United States Senate until March 4, 1921. That same month, Fall accepted President Harding's appointment as Secretary of the Interior.
Perhaps, the worst scandal of Harding's administration was the Teapot Dome Scandal, named for the Teapot Dome oilfield in Wyoming. Secretary of the Interior Fall rented government lands to oil companies in return for personal loans and gifts. The land in question existed in California and Wyoming. The federal government currently was holding oil under this land as a reserve for the United States Navy, but Fall decided to lease the land illegally to Mammoth Oil Company and to the Pan American Petroleum Company in return for the personal loans. In the end, Fall received approximately 404,000 dollars in loans or gifts from these two oil companies. Eventually the United States Senate launched an investigation of Fall's actions. He was found guilty of accepting money in return for the oil leases. Fall was convicted, fined 100,000 dollars and sentenced to one year in prison. The oilfields were returned to the United States Navy. The first cabinet official in United States history to be convicted of a felony, Fall resigned as Secretary of the Interior in 1923. His actions, along with those of several other of Harding's cabinet officials, caused a great deal of distrust of government officials among the American people and also solidified Harding's reputation as a poor president.
Upon being released from prison, Fall returned to the private sector. He died on December 1, 1944, in El Paso, Texas.