One of the biggest scandals to ever rock the petroleum industry was the fraudulent leasing of United States oil reserves at Wyoming’s Teapot Dome, and the discovery of the Continental Trading Company, a Canadian corporation organized in 1921 to funnel the profits into untaxed Liberty Bonds.
Several prominent oilmen and government officials defrauded the government for significant personal gain. Henry M. Blackmer, head of Midwest Oil Company, was among them and was one of the key players in the organization of the Continental Trading Company.
Studio portrait of oil tycoon Henry M Blackmer at time of Teapot Dome Scandal. Photo file: Blackmer, Henry, UW American Heritage Center
Ralph Dietler was Blackmer’s private secretary at the time and in that role attended the meeting in November 1921 at New York’s Vanderbilt Hotel during which plans were made to form the company.
Born in Denver, Colorado, on the last day of 1890, Dietler began his long career in the petroleum industry in 1919 when hired as stenographer and private secretary to Blackmer at Midwest Refining Company. In this capacity Dietler was privy to the inner workings of the Continental Trading Company as a vehicle for buying and selling oil while hiding the profits in Canada to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. He was present at the meetings between the principals in the Teapot Dome scandal.
A 1924 cartoon depicting Washington officials racing down an oil-slicked road to the White House, trying to outpace the Teapot Dome Scandal. Courtesy of The Granger Collection, New York.
Later, after the scandal broke, Blackmer fled to France and Dietler became the assistant to the new president, Tom Dines. Later, Standard Oil Company of Indiana purchased and dissolved Midwest Refining Company.
Dietler then transferred to Tulsa to become vice president of Stanolind Crude Oil Purchasing Company, which was affiliated with Standard Oil. He served Stanolind as vice president from 1931-1940, president from 1940-1948, and chairman of the board from 1948-1955.
Dietler retired in 1955 to work as a private consultant and independent oil producer. He died in September 1973.
The Ralph O. Dietler Papers contain biographical information, photographs of him and his wife Christabel, and memorials and resolutions given after his death by various groups in the oil industry.
Christabel and Ralph Dietler, ca. 1950. Ralph O. Dietler Collection, Accession Number 06374, Box 2, Folder 4, UW American Heritage Center
Of special note is a transcript of an interview conducted with Dietler in 1970, giving a first-hand account of his employment by Blackmer and his knowledge of the Continental Trading Company and the resulting Teapot Dome scandal. A personal scrapbook contains news clippings of Blackmer’s self-imposed exile to France to escape having to testify in the senate investigations and federal court trials of Albert Fall and Harry Sinclair, as well as his eventual return to the U.S.
The Dietlers had one son, Cortlandt S., who also enjoyed a long and admired career in the petroleum industry.