The Republic of the Congo (République du Congo), also known as the Congo Republic, Congo-Brazzaville or simply Congo, is a country located in Central Africa bordered by Gabon and the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Cameroon to the northwest, the Central African Republic to the northeast, the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the east and south, and the Angolan exclave of Cabinda to the southwest. Established as the French Congo (Congo français) in 1880, it added Gabon and was officially renamed Middle Congo (Moyen-Congo) in 1903 and became part of the confederation of French Equatorial Africa (Afrique équatoriale française), the administrative capital of which was in Brazzaville. Upon independence in 1960, the former colony of French Congo became the Republic of the Congo. The People’s Republic of the Congo was a Marxist–Leninist one-party state from 1970 to 1991 after which the name reverted to the Republic of the Congo.
This is not to be confused with the he Democratic Republic of the Congo (République démocratique du Congo), which began colonialism as the Congo Free State (État indépendant du Congo) in 1885, was called Belgian Congo (Congo Belge in French or Belgisch-Congo in Dutch) from 1908 until independence in 1960, at which time it was named the Republic of the Congo (République du Congo) or Congo-Léopoldville, This name lasted until 1964 when it changed to Democratic Republic of the Congo to distinguish it from the neighboring Republic of the Congo (Congo-Brazzaville). It was renamed the Republic of Zaire (République du Zaïre) in 1971 but reverted back to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1997. Who said Africa wasn’t confusing?
Bantu-speaking peoples who founded tribes during the Bantu expansions largely displaced and absorbed the earliest inhabitants of the region, the Pygmy people, about 1500 B.C. The Bakongo, a Bantu ethnic group that also occupied parts of present-day Angola, Gabon, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formed the basis for ethnic affinities and rivalries among those countries. Several Bantu kingdoms — notably those of the Kongo, the Loango, and the Teke — built trade links leading into the Congo River basin.
The Portuguese explorer Diogo Cão reached the mouth of the Congo in 1484. Commercial relationships quickly grew between the inland Bantu kingdoms and European merchants who traded various commodities, manufactured goods, and people captured from the hinterlands. After centuries as a major hub for transatlantic trade, direct European colonization of the Congo river delta began in the late nineteenth century, subsequently eroding the power of the Bantu societies in the region.
The area north of the Congo River came under French sovereignty in 1880 as a result of Pierre de Brazza’s treaty with Makoko of the Bateke. This Congo Colony became known first as French Congo, then as Middle Congo in 1903. In 1908, France organized French Equatorial Africa (AEF), comprising Middle Congo, Gabon, Chad, and Oubangui-Chari (the modern Central African Republic). The French designated Brazzaville as the federal capital. Economic development during the first 50 years of colonial rule in Congo centered on natural-resource extraction. The methods were often brutal: construction of the Congo–Ocean Railroad following World War I has been estimated to have cost at least 14,000 lives.
During the Nazi occupation of France during World War II, Brazzaville functioned as the symbolic capital of Free France between 1940 and 1943. The Brazzaville Conference of 1944 heralded a period of major reform in French colonial policy. Congo benefited from the postwar expansion of colonial administrative and infrastructure spending as a result of its central geographic location within AEF and the federal capital at Brazzaville. It also received a local legislature after the adoption of the 1946 constitution that established the Fourth Republic.
Following the revision of the French constitution that established the Fifth Republic in 1958, the AEF dissolved into its constituent parts, each of which became an autonomous colony within the French Community. During these reforms, Middle Congo became known as the Republic of the Congo in 1958 and published its first constitution in 1959. The first stamps of the independent Republic of the Congo were issued on November 28, 1958. Antagonism between the pro-Opangault Mbochis and the pro-Youlou Balalis resulted in a series of riots in Brazzaville in February 1959, which the French Army subdued.
The Republic of the Congo received full independence from France on August 15, 1960. Fulbert Youlou ruled as the country’s first president until labor elements and rival political parties instigated a three-day uprising that ousted him. The Congolese military took charge of the country briefly and installed a civilian provisional government headed by Alphonse Massamba-Débat.
Under the 1963 constitution, Massamba-Débat was elected President for a five-year term. During Massamba-Débat’s term in office the regime adopted “scientific socialism” as the country’s constitutional ideology. In 1965, Congo established relations with the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, North Korea and North Vietnam. Massamba-Débat’s regime also invited several hundred Cuban army troops into the country to train his party’s militia units and these troops helped his government survive a coup in 1966 led by paratroopers loyal to future President Marien Ngouabi. Nevertheless, Massamba-Débat was unable to reconcile various institutional, tribal and ideological factions within the country and his regime ended abruptly with a bloodless coup d’état in September 1968.
Marien Ngouabi, who had participated in the coup, assumed the presidency on December 31, 1968. One year later, President Ngouabi proclaimed Congo Africa’s first “people’s republic”, the People’s Republic of the Congo, and announced the decision of the National Revolutionary Movement to change its name to the Congolese Labour Party (PCT). Ngouabi survived an attempted coup in 1972 but was assassinated on March 16, 1977. An eleven-member Military Committee of the Party (CMP) was then named to head an interim government with Joachim Yhombi-Opango to serve as President of the Republic. Two years later, Yhombi-Opango was forced from power and Denis Sassou Nguesso become the new president.
Sassou Nguesso aligned the country with the Eastern Bloc and signed a twenty-year friendship pact with the Soviet Union. Over the years, Sassou had to rely more on political repression and less on patronage to maintain his dictatorship.
Pascal Lissouba, who became Congo’s first elected president (1992–1997) during the period of multi-party democracy, attempted to implement economic reforms with IMF backing to liberalize the economy. In June 1996, the International Monetary Fund approved a three-year SDR69.5m (US$100m) enhanced structural adjustment facility (ESAF) and was on the verge of announcing a renewed annual agreement when civil war broke out in Congo in mid-1997.
Congo’s democratic progress was derailed in 1997 when Lissouba and Sassou started to fight for power in the civil war. As presidential elections scheduled for July 1997 approached, tensions between the Lissouba and Sassou camps mounted. On June 5, President Lissouba’s government forces surrounded Sassou’s compound in Brazzaville and Sassou ordered members of his private militia (known as “Cobras”) to resist. Thus began a four-month conflict that destroyed or damaged much of Brazzaville and caused tens of thousands of civilian deaths. In early October, the Angolan régime began an invasion of Congo to install Sassou in power. In mid-October, the Lissouba government fell. Soon thereafter, Sassou declared himself president.
In the controversial elections in 2002, Sassou won with almost 90% of the vote cast. His two main rivals, Lissouba and Bernard Kolelas, were prevented from competing and the only remaining credible rival, Andre Milongo, advised his supporters to boycott the elections and then withdrew from the race. A new constitution, agreed upon by referendum in January 2002, granted the president new powers, extended his term to seven years, and introduced a new bicameral assembly. International observers took issue with the organization of the presidential election and the constitutional referendum, both of which were reminiscent in their organization of Congo’s era of the one-party state. Following the presidential elections, fighting restarted in the Pool region between government forces and rebels led by Pastor Ntumi; a peace treaty to end the conflict was signed in April 2003.
Sassou also won the following presidential election in July 2009. According to the Congolese Observatory of Human Rights, a non-governmental organization, the election was marked by “very low” turnout and “fraud and irregularities”. In March 2015, Sassou announced that he wanted to run for yet another term in office and a constitutional referendum in October resulted in a changed constitution which allowed him to run during the 2016 presidential election.
Scott #1049, a 75-franc stamp in a series of five marking the 90th anniversary of powered flight, was issued on December 17, 1993. Perforated 12¼x12½, this stamp portrays a Wright Model B airplane along with Wilbur Wright, the younger brother of Orville whom I profiled in a blog on National Aviation Day (August 19). The Wright brothers were two of seven children born to Milton Wright (1828–1917), of English and Dutch ancestry, and Susan Catherine Koerner (1831–1889), of German and Swiss ancestry. Wilbur was born near Millville, Indiana, on April 16, 1867; Orville in Dayton, Ohio, on August 19, 1871. In 1878 their father, who traveled often as a bishop in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, brought home a toy helicopter for his two younger sons. The device was based on an invention of French aeronautical pioneer Alphonse Pénaud. Made of paper, bamboo and cork with a rubber band to twirl its rotor, it was about a foot long. Wilbur and Orville played with it until it broke, and then built their own. In later years, they pointed to their experience with the toy as the spark of their interest in flying.
Both brothers attended high school, but did not receive diplomas. The family’s abrupt move in 1884 from Richmond, Indiana. to Dayton, Ohio, where the family had lived during the 1870s, prevented Wilbur from receiving his diploma after finishing four years of high school. The diploma was awarded posthumously to Wilbur on April 16, 1994, which would have been his 127th birthday.
In late 1885 or early 1886, Wilbur was struck in the face by a hockey stick while playing an ice-skating game with friends, resulting in the loss of his front teeth. He had been vigorous and athletic until then, and although his injuries did not appear especially severe, he became withdrawn. He had planned to attend Yale. Instead, he spent the next few years largely housebound. During this time he cared for his mother who was terminally ill with tuberculosis, read extensively in his father’s library and ably assisted his father during times of controversy within the Brethren Church, but also expressed unease over his own lack of ambition.
Orville dropped out of high school after his junior year to start a printing business in 1889, having designed and built his own printing press with Wilbur’s help. Wilbur joined the print shop, and in March the brothers launched a weekly newspaper, the West Side News. Subsequent issues listed Orville as publisher and Wilbur as editor on the masthead. In April 1890, they converted the paper to a daily, The Evening Item, but it lasted only four months. They focused on commercial printing afterward. One of their clients for printing jobs was Orville’s friend and classmate in high school, Paul Laurence Dunbar, who rose to international acclaim as a ground-breaking African-American poet and writer. For a brief period the Wrights printed the Dayton Tattler, a weekly newspaper that Dunbar edited.
Capitalizing on the national bicycle craze (spurred by the invention of the safety bicycle and its substantial advantages over the penny-farthing design), in December 1892 the brothers opened a repair and sales shop (the Wright Cycle Exchange, later the Wright Cycle Company) and in 1896 began manufacturing their own brand. They used this endeavor to fund their growing interest in flight.
In the early or mid-1890s, they saw newspaper or magazine articles and probably photographs of the dramatic glides by Otto Lilienthal in Germany. In May 1896, Smithsonian Institution Secretary Samuel Langley successfully flew an unmanned steam-powered fixed-wing model aircraft. In the middle of that year, Chicago engineer and aviation authority Octave Chanute brought together several men who tested various types of gliders over the sand dunes along the shore of Lake Michigan. That August, Lilienthal was killed in the plunge of his glider. These three events lodged in the consciousness of the brothers.
In May 1899, Wilbur wrote a letter to the Smithsonian Institution requesting information and publications about aeronautics. Drawing on the work of Sir George Cayley, Chanute, Lilienthal, Leonardo da Vinci, and Langley, they began their mechanical aeronautical experimentation that year.
Despite Lilienthal’s fate, the brothers favored his strategy: to practice gliding in order to master the art of control before attempting motor-driven flight. The death of British aeronaut Percy Pilcher in another hang gliding crash in October 1899 only reinforced their opinion that a reliable method of pilot control was the key to successful — and safe — flight. At the outset of their experiments they regarded control as the unsolved third part of “the flying problem”. They believed sufficiently promising knowledge of the other two issues — wings and engines — already existed. The Wright brothers thus differed sharply from more experienced practitioners of the day, notably Clément Ader, Maxim and Langley who built powerful engines, attached them to airframes equipped with unproven control devices, and expected to take to the air with no previous flying experience.
On the basis of observation, Wilbur concluded that birds changed the angle of the ends of their wings to make their bodies roll right or left. The brothers decided this would also be a good way for a flying machine to turn — to “bank” or “lean” into the turn just like a bird — and just like a person riding a bicycle, an experience with which they were thoroughly familiar. Equally important, they hoped this method would enable recovery when the wind tilted the machine to one side (lateral balance). They puzzled over how to achieve the same effect with man-made wings and eventually discovered wing-warping when Wilbur idly twisted a long inner-tube box at the bicycle shop.
The Wright brothers wanted the pilot to have absolute control in flight. For that reason, their early designs made no concessions toward built-in stability (such as dihedral wings). They deliberately designed their 1903 first powered flyer with anhedral (drooping) wings, which are inherently unstable, but less susceptible to upset by gusty cross winds.
In July 1899 Wilbur put wing warping to the test by building and flying a biplane kite with a five-foot (1.5m) wingspan. When the wings were warped, or twisted, one end of the wings produced more lift and the other end less lift. The unequal lift made the wings tilt, or bank: the end with more lift rose, while the other end dropped, causing a turn in the direction of the lower end. The warping was controlled by four cords attached to the kite, which led to two sticks held by the kite flyer, who tilted them in opposite directions to twist the wings.
In 1900, the brothers went to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, to begin their manned gliding experiments. In his reply to Wilbur’s first letter, Octave Chanute had suggested the mid-Atlantic coast for its regular breezes and soft sandy landing surface. Wilbur also requested and examined U.S. Weather Bureau data, and decided on Kitty Hawk after receiving information from the government meteorologist stationed there. Kitty Hawk, although remote, was closer to Dayton than other places Chanute had suggested, including California and Florida. The spot also gave them privacy from reporters, who had turned the 1896 Chanute experiments at Lake Michigan into something of a circus. Chanute visited them in camp each season from 1901 to 1903 and saw gliding experiments, but not the powered flights.
The brothers flew the glider for only a few days in the early autumn of 1900 at Kitty Hawk. In the first tests, probably on October 3, Wilbur was aboard while the glider flew as a kite not far above the ground with men below holding tether ropes. Most of the kite tests were unpiloted, with sandbags or chains and even a local boy as ballast.
They tested wing-warping using control ropes from the ground. The glider was also tested unmanned while suspended from a small homemade tower. Wilbur, but not Orville, made about a dozen free glides on only a single day, October 20. For those tests the brothers trekked four miles (6 km) south to the Kill Devil Hills, a group of sand dunes up to 100 feet (30 m) high, where they made camp in each of the next three years. Although the glider’s lift was less than expected, the brothers were encouraged because the craft’s front elevator worked well and they had no accidents. However, the small number of free glides meant they were not able to give wing-warping a true test.
The pilot lay flat on the lower wing, as planned, to reduce aerodynamic drag. As a glide ended, the pilot was supposed to lower himself to a vertical position through an opening in the wing and land on his feet with his arms wrapped over the framework. Within a few glides, however, they discovered the pilot could remain prone on the wing, headfirst, without undue danger when landing. They made all their flights in that position for the next five years.
Between October and December 1901, the Wright brothers conducted systematic tests on dozens of miniature wings using a six-foot (1.8m) wind tunnel they built in their shop . The “balances” they devised and mounted inside the tunnel to hold the wings looked crude, made of bicycle spokes and scrap metal, but were “as critical to the ultimate success of the Wright brothers as were the gliders.” The devices allowed the brothers to balance lift against drag and accurately calculate the performance of each wing. They could also see which wings worked well as they looked through the viewing window in the top of the tunnel. The tests yielded a trove of valuable data never before known and showed that the poor lift of the 1900 and 1901 gliders was entirely due to an incorrect Smeaton value, and that Lilienthal’s published data were fairly accurate for the tests he had done.
Before the detailed wind tunnel tests Wilbur traveled to Chicago at Chanute’s invitation to give a lecture to the Western Society of Engineers on September 18, 1901. He presented a thorough report about the 1900–1901 glider experiments and complemented his talk with a lantern slide show of photographs. Wilbur’s speech was the first public account of the brothers’ experiments.
In 1902, the Wrights discovered the true purpose of the movable vertical rudder was not to change the direction of flight (as a rudder does in sailing), but rather, to aim or align the aircraft correctly during banking turns and when leveling off from turns and wind disturbances. The actual turn — the change in direction — was done with roll control using wing-warping. The principles remained the same when ailerons superseded wing-warping.
With their new method the Wrights achieved true control in turns for the first time on October 8, 1902, a major milestone. From September 19 to October 24 they made between 700 and 1,000 glides, the longest lasting 26 seconds and covering 622.5 feet (189.7 m). Hundreds of well-controlled glides after they made the rudder steerable convinced them they were ready to build a powered flying machine.
Thus did three-axis control evolve: wing-warping for roll (lateral motion), forward elevator for pitch (up and down) and rear rudder for yaw (side to side). On March 23, 1903, the Wrights applied for their famous patent for a “Flying Machine”, based on their successful 1902 glider. Some aviation historians believe that applying the system of three-axis flight control on the 1902 glider was equal to, or even more significant, than the addition of power to the 1903 Flyer. Peter Jakab of the Smithsonian asserts that perfection of the 1902 glider essentially represents invention of the airplane.
n 1903, the brothers built the powered Wright Flyer I, using their preferred material for construction, spruce, a strong and lightweight wood, and Pride of the West muslin for surface coverings. They also designed and carved their own wooden propellers, and had a purpose-built gasoline engine fabricated in their bicycle shop. They thought propeller design would be a simple matter and intended to adapt data from shipbuilding. However, their library research disclosed no established formulae for either marine or air propellers, and they found themselves with no sure starting point. They discussed and argued the question, sometimes heatedly, until they concluded that an aeronautical propeller is essentially a wing rotating in the vertical plane. On that basis, they used data from more wind tunnel tests to design their propellers. The finished blades were just over eight feet long, made of three laminations of glued spruce. The Wrights decided on twin “pusher” propellers (counter-rotating to cancel torque), which would act on a greater quantity of air than a single relatively slow propeller and not disturb airflow over the leading edge of the wings.
Wilbur made a March 1903 entry in his notebook indicating the prototype propeller was 66% efficient. Modern wind tunnel tests on reproduction 1903 propellers show they were more than 75% efficient under the conditions of the first flights, “a remarkable feat”, and actually had a peak efficiency of 82%.
The Wrights wrote to several engine manufacturers, but none met their need for a sufficiently lightweight powerplant. They turned to their shop mechanic, Charlie Taylor, who built an engine in just six weeks in close consultation with the brothers. To keep the weight low enough, the engine block was cast from aluminum, a rare practice for the time. The Wright/Taylor engine had a primitive version of a carburetor, and had no fuel pump. Gasoline was gravity-fed from the fuel tank mounted on a wing strut into a chamber next to the cylinders where it was mixed with air: the fuel-air mixture was then vaporized by heat from the crankcase, forcing it into the cylinders.
The propeller drive chains, resembling those of bicycles, were supplied by a manufacturer of heavy-duty automobile chains. The Flyer cost less than a thousand dollars, in contrast to more than $50,000 in government funds given to Samuel Langley for his man-carrying Great Aerodrome. The Flyer had a wingspan of 40.3 feet (12.3 m), weighed 605 pounds (274 kg) and had a 12 horsepower (8.9 kW) 180 pound (82 kg) engine.
They made the first controlled, sustained flight of a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft on December 17, 1903, four miles south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The first flight was piloted by Orville with Wilbur taking the controls on the second of three flights that day.
During 1904 and 1905, the brothers developed their flying machine into the first practical fixed-wing aircraft. Although not the first to build and fly experimental aircraft, the Wright brothers were the first to invent aircraft controls that made fixed-wing powered flight possible.
Neither brother married. Wilbur once quipped that he did not have time for both a wife and an airplane.
Following a brief training flight in Berlin he gave to a German pilot in June 1911, Wilbur never flew again. He gradually became occupied with business matters for the Wright Company and dealing with different lawsuits. Upon dealing with the patent lawsuits, which had put great strain on both brothers, Wilbur had written in a letter to a French friend, “When we think what we might have accomplished if we had been able to devote this time to experiments, we feel very sad, but it is always easier to deal with things than with men, and no one can direct his life entirely as he would choose.”
Wilbur spent the year before his death traveling, where he spent a full six months in Europe attending to various business and legal matters. Wilbur urged American cities to emulate the European — particularly Parisian — philosophy of apportioning generous public space near every important public building. He was also constantly back and forth between New York, Washington and Dayton. All of the stresses were taking a toll on Wilbur physically. Orville would remark that he would “come home white”.
It was decided by the family that a new and far grander house would be built, using the money that the Wrights had earned through their inventions and business. Called affectionately Hawthorn Hill, building had begun in the Dayton suburb of Oakwood, Ohio, while Wilbur was in Europe. Katharine and Orville oversaw the project in his absence. Wilbur’s one known expression upon the design of the house was that he have a room and bathroom of his own. The brothers hired Schenck and Williams, an architectural firm, to design the house, along with input from both Wilbur and Orville. Wilbur did not live to see its completion in 1914.
He became ill on a business trip to Boston in April 1912, the illness sometimes attributed to eating bad shellfish at a banquet. After returning to Dayton in early May 1912, worn down in mind and body, he fell ill again and was diagnosed with typhoid fever. He lingered on, his symptoms relapsing and remitting for many days. Wilbur died, at age 45, at the Wright family home on May 30, 1912. His father wrote about Wilbur in his diary:
“A short life, full of consequences. An unfailing intellect, imperturbable temper, great self-reliance and as great modesty, seeing the right clearly, pursuing it steadfastly, he lived and died.”