The Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe (República Democrática de São Tomé e Príncipe), is a Portuguese-speaking island nation in the Gulf of Guinea, off the western equatorial coast of Central Africa. It consists of two archipelagos around the two main islands: São Tomé is located about 155 miles (250 kilometers) and Príncipe 140 miles (225 km) off the northwestern coast of Gabon. The two islands are 87 miles (140 km) apart and constitute Africa’s second-smallest country.
São Tomé is 30 miles (50 km) long and 20 miles (30 km) wide and the more mountainous of the two islands. Its peaks reach 6,640 feet (2,024 meters). Príncipe is about 20 miles (30 km) long and 4 miles (6 km) wide. Its peaks reach 3,110 feet (948 m). Swift streams radiating down the mountains through lush forest and cropland to the sea cross both islands. Both are part of the Cameroon volcanic mountain line, which also includes the islands of Annobón to the southwest, Bioko to the northeast (both part of Equatorial Guinea), and Mount Cameroon on the coast of Gulf of Guinea. The equator lies immediately south of São Tomé Island, passing through an islet Ilhéu das Rolas.
The islands were uninhabited until their discovery by Portuguese explorers in the 15th century. Gradually colonized and settled by the Portuguese throughout the sixteenth century, they collectively served as a vital commercial and trade center for the Atlantic slave trade. The rich volcanic soil and close proximity to the equator made São Tomé and Príncipe ideal for sugar cultivation, followed later by cash crops such as coffee and cocoa; the lucrative plantation economy was heavily dependent upon imported African slaves. Cycles of social unrest and economic instability throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries culminated in peaceful independence in 1975. São Tomé and Príncipe has since remained one of Africa’s most stable and democratic countries.
With a population of 192,993 (2013 census), São Tomé and Príncipe is the second-smallest African country after Seychelles, as well as the smallest Portuguese-speaking country. Its people are predominantly of African and mestiço descent, with most practicing Roman Catholicism. The legacy of Portuguese rule is also visible in the country’s culture, customs, and music, which fuse European and African influences.
The islands of São Tomé and Príncipe were uninhabited when the Portuguese arrived sometime around 1470. The islands were discovered by João de Santarém and Pêro Escobar. Portuguese navigators explored the islands and decided that they would be good locations for bases to trade with the mainland.
The dates of discovery are sometimes given as December 21 (St Thomas’s Day), 1471 for São Tomé, and January 17 (St Anthony’s Day), 1472 for Príncipe, though other sources give different nearby years. Príncipe was initially named Santo Antão (“Saint Anthony”), changing its name in 1502 to Ilha do Príncipe (“Prince’s Island”), in reference to the Prince of Portugal to whom duties on the island’s sugar crop were paid.
The first successful settlement of São Tomé was established in 1493 by Álvaro Caminha, who received the land as a grant from the crown. Príncipe was settled in 1500 under a similar arrangement. Attracting settlers proved difficult, however, and most of the earliest inhabitants were “undesirables” sent from Portugal, mostly Jews. In time these settlers found the volcanic soil of the region suitable for agriculture, especially the growing of sugar.
By 1515, São Tomé and Príncipe had become slave depots for the coastal slave trade centered at Elmina.
The cultivation of sugar was a labour-intensive process and the Portuguese began to enslave large numbers of Africans from the mainland. By the mid-sixteenth century the Portuguese settlers had turned the islands into Africa’s foremost exporter of sugar. São Tomé and Príncipe were taken over and administered by the Portuguese crown in 1522 and 1573, respectively.
However, competition from sugar-producing colonies in the Western Hemisphere began to hurt the islands. The large enslaved population also proved difficult to oppress, with Portugal unable to invest many resources in the effort. Sugar cultivation thus declined over the next 100 years, and by the mid-seventeenth century, the economy of São Tomé had changed. It was now primarily a transit point for ships engaged in the slave trade between the West and continental Africa.
In the early nineteenth century, two new cash crops, coffee and cocoa, were introduced. The rich volcanic soils proved well suited to the new cash crop industry, and soon extensive plantations (known as “roças“), owned by Portuguese companies or absentee landlords, occupied almost all of the good farmland. By 1908, São Tomé had become the world’s largest producer of cocoa, which remains the country’s most important crop.
The roças system, which gave the plantation managers a high degree of authority, led to abuses against the African farm workers. Although Portugal officially abolished slavery in 1876, the practice of forced paid labor continued. Scientific American magazine documented in words and pictures the continued use of slaves in São Tomé in its March 13, 1897 issue.
In the early twentieth century, an internationally publicized controversy arose over charges that Angolan contract workers were being subjected to forced labor and unsatisfactory working conditions. Sporadic labor unrest and dissatisfaction continued well into the twentieth century, culminating in an outbreak of riots in 1953 in which several hundred African laborers were killed in a clash with their Portuguese rulers. This “Batepá Massacre” remains a major event in the colonial history of the islands, and its anniversary is officially observed by the government.
By the late 1950s, when other emerging nations across the African Continent demanded their independence, a small group of São Toméans had formed the Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe (MLSTP), which eventually established its base in nearby Gabon. Picking up momentum in the 1960s, events moved quickly after the overthrow of the Caetano dictatorship in Portugal in April 1974.
The new Portuguese regime was committed to the dissolution of its overseas colonies — in November 1974, their representatives met with the MLSTP in Algiers and worked out an agreement for the transfer of sovereignty. After a period of transitional government, São Tomé and Príncipe achieved independence on July 12, 1975, choosing as the first president the MLSTP Secretary General Manuel Pinto da Costa.
In 1990, São Tomé became one of the first African countries to undergo democratic reform, and changes to the constitution — the legalization of opposition political parties — led to elections in 1991 that were nonviolent, free, and transparent. Miguel Trovoada, a former prime minister who had been in exile since 1986, returned as an independent candidate and was elected president. Trovoada was re-elected in São Tomé’s second multi-party presidential election in 1996.
The Party of Democratic Convergence (PCD) won a majority of seats in the National Assembly, with the MLSTP becoming an important and vocal minority party. Municipal elections followed in late 1992, in which the MLSTP won a majority of seats on five of seven regional councils. In early legislative elections in October 1994, the MLSTP won a plurality of seats in the Assembly. It regained an outright majority of seats in the November 1998 elections.
Presidential elections were held in July 2001. The candidate backed by the Independent Democratic Action party, Fradique de Menezes, was elected in the first round and inaugurated on 3 September. Parliamentary elections were held in March 2002. For the next four years, a series of short-lived opposition-led governments were formed.
The army seized power for one week in July 2003, complaining of corruption and that forthcoming oil revenues would not be divided fairly. An accord was negotiated under which President de Menezes was returned to office. The cohabitation period ended in March 2006, when a pro-presidential coalition won enough seats in National Assembly elections to form a new government.
In the July 30, 2006, presidential election, Fradique de Menezes easily won a second five-year term in office, defeating two other candidates Patrice Trovoada (son of former President Miguel Trovoada) and independent Nilo Guimarães. Local elections, the first since 1992, took place on August 27, 2006, and were dominated by members of the ruling coalition. On February 12, 2009, there was an attempted coup d’état to overthrow President Fradique de Menezes. The coup plotters were imprisoned, but later received a pardon from President de Menezes.
The first stamps for São Tomé and Príncipe were released in 1869; most followed with Portuguese design types. Since independence, many stamps have been released targeting thematic collectors.
Scott #530 was released on December 21, 1979, as part of a set of six stamps commemorating the “History of Aviation.” A pair of souvenir sheets similarly inscribed were issued on September 15 of that year which also commemorated the 30th anniversary of the first airmail flight between São Tomé and Lisbon. The 5 dobra stamp depicts the Spirit of St. Louis in which Charles Lindbergh made his Orteig Prize–winning nonstop flight from Long Island, New York, to Paris from May 20 to 21, 1927. He covered the 33 1⁄2-hour, 3,600 statute miles (5,800 km) alone in the single-engine purpose-built Ryan monoplane. This was the first solo transatlantic flight, and the first non-stop flight between North America and mainland Europe. His achievement spurred interest in both commercial aviation and air mail, and Lindbergh himself devoted much time and effort to promoting such activity.
The world’s first nonstop transatlantic flight (though at 1,890 miles or 3,040 km, far shorter than Lindbergh’s 3,600 mile or 5,800 km, flight) was made by British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown, in a modified Vickers Vimy IV bomber. They left St. John’s, Newfoundland on June 14, 1919 and arrived in Ireland, the following day.
Around the same time, French-born New York hotelier Raymond Orteig established a $25,000 award for the first successful nonstop transatlantic flight specifically between New York City and Paris (in either direction) within five years after its establishment. When that time limit lapsed in 1924 without a serious attempt, Orteig renewed the offer for another five years, this time attracting a number of well-known, highly experienced, and well-financed contenders — none of whom were successful. On September 21, 1926, World War I French flying ace René Fonck’s Sikorsky S-35 crashed on takeoff from Roosevelt Field in New York. U.S. Naval aviators Noel Davis and Stanton H. Wooster were killed at Langley Field, Virginia on April 26, 1927, while testing their Keystone Pathfinder. On May 8, French war heroes Charles Nungesser and François Coli departed Paris — Le Bourget Airport in the Levasseur PL 8 seaplane L’Oiseau Blanc; they disappeared over the coast of Ireland.
Lindbergh’s obscurity made financing a challenge, but eventually a $15,000 bank loan was obtained by two St. Louis businessmen. Lindbergh contributed $2,000 of his own and another $1,000 was donated by RAC. The total of $18,000 was far less than was available to Lindbergh’s rivals.
The group tried to buy an “off-the-peg” single or multiengine monoplane from Wright Aeronautical, then Travel Air, and finally the newly formed Columbia Aircraft Corporation, but all insisted on selecting the pilot as a condition of sale. Finally the much smaller Ryan Aircraft Company of San Diego agreed to design and build a custom monoplane for $10,580, and on February 25 a deal was formally closed. Dubbed the Spirit of St. Louis, the fabric-covered, single-seat, single-engine “Ryan NYP” high-wing monoplane (CAB registration: N-X-211) was designed jointly by Lindbergh and the Ryan’s chief engineer Donald A. Hall. The Spirit flew for the first time just two months later, and after a series of test flights Lindbergh took off from San Diego on May 10. He went first to St. Louis, then on to Roosevelt Field on New York’s Long Island.
Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt Field for Paris in the early morning of Friday, May 20, 1927. Loaded with 450 U.S. gallons (1,704 liters) of fuel — strained repeatedly to avoid fuel line blockage, and weighing about 2,710 pounds (1,230 kg) — and hampered by a muddy, rain-soaked runway, Lindbergh’s monoplane, powered by a J-5C Wright Whirlwind radial engine, gained speed very slowly during its 7:52 a.m. takeoff, but cleared telephone lines at the far end of the field “by about twenty feet [six meters] with a fair reserve of flying speed”.
Over the next 33 1⁄2 hours, he and the Spirit faced many challenges, including skimming over both storm clouds at 10,000 feet (3,000 m) and wave tops at as low as 10 feet (3 m), fighting icing, flying blind through fog for several hours, and navigating only by the stars (whenever visible), and dead reckoning before landing at Le Bourget Airport at 10:22 p.m. on Saturday, May 21. The airfield was not marked on his map and Lindbergh knew only that it was some seven miles northeast of the city; he initially mistook it for some large industrial complex because of the bright lights spreading out in all directions — in fact the headlights of tens of thousands of spectators’ cars caught in “the largest traffic jam in Paris history” in their attempt to be present for Lindbergh’s landing.
A crowd estimated at 150,000 stormed the field, dragged Lindbergh out of the cockpit, and literally carried him around above their heads for “nearly half an hour”. Some damage was done to the Spirit (especially to the fine linen, silver-painted fabric covering on the fuselage) by souvenir hunters before pilot and plane reached the safety of a nearby hangar with the aid of French military fliers, soldiers, and police.
Lindbergh’s flight was certified by the National Aeronautic Association based on the readings from a sealed barograph placed in the Spirit.
Lindbergh received unprecedented adulation after his historic flight. People were “behaving as though Lindbergh had walked on water, not flown over it.” His mother’s house in Detroit was surrounded by a crowd estimated at about 1,000. Countless newspapers, magazines, and radio shows wanted to interview him, and he was flooded with job offers from companies, think tanks, and universities.
The French Foreign Office flew the American flag, the first time it had saluted someone not a head of state. Lindbergh also made a series of brief flights to Belgium and Great Britain in the Spirit before returning to the United States. Gaston Doumergue, the President of France, bestowed the French Légion d’honneur on Lindbergh, and on his arrival back in the United States aboard the U.S. Navy cruiser USS Memphis (CL-13) on June 11, 1927, a fleet of warships and multiple flights of military aircraft escorted him up the Potomac River to the Washington Navy Yard, where President Calvin Coolidge awarded him the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Lindbergh flew from Washington to New York City on June 13, arriving in lower Manhattan and traveling up the Canyon of Heroes to City Hall where he was received by Mayor Jimmy Walker. A ticker-tape parade followed to Central Park Mall, where he was honored at another ceremony hosted by New York Governor Al Smith and attended by a crowd of 200,000. Some 4,000,000 persons saw Lindbergh that day. That evening, accompanied by his mother and Mayor Walker, Lindbergh was the guest of honor at a 500-guest banquet and dance held at Clarence MacKay’s Long Island estate, Harbor Hill.
The following night, Lindbergh was honored with a grand banquet at the Hotel Commodore given by the Mayor’s Committee on Receptions of the City of New York and attended by some 3,700 people. He was officially awarded the check for the prize on June 16. The U.S. Post Office Department issued a 10-cent Air Mail stamp (Scott #C10) depicting the Spirit and a map of the flight on June 18. This was the first U.S. stamp to bear the name of a living person.
On July 18, 1927, Lindbergh was promoted to the rank of colonel in the Air Corps of the Officers Reserve Corps of the U.S. Army.
On December 14, 1927, a Special Act of Congress awarded Lindbergh the Medal of Honor despite the fact that it was almost always awarded for heroism in combat. It was presented to Lindbergh by President Coolidge at the White House on March 21, 1928. Other noncombat awards of the Medal of Honor were made to naval aviators Richard E. Byrd and Floyd Bennett, as well as arctic explorer Adolphus W. Greely.
Lindbergh was the first Time magazine “Man of the Year”, appearing on Time‘s cover January 2, 1928; he remains the youngest Man of the Year ever. The winner of the 1930 Best Woman Aviator of the Year Award, Elinor Smith Sullivan, said that before Lindbergh’s flight,
“People seemed to think we [aviators] were from outer space or something. But after Charles Lindbergh’s flight, we could do no wrong. It’s hard to describe the impact Lindbergh had on people. Even the first walk on the moon doesn’t come close. The twenties was such an innocent time, and people were still so religious — I think they felt like this man was sent by God to do this. And it changed aviation forever because all of a sudden the Wall Streeters were banging on doors looking for airplanes to invest in. We’d been standing on our heads trying to get them to notice us but after Lindbergh, suddenly everyone wanted to fly, and there weren’t enough planes to carry them.“
Barely two months after Lindbergh arrived in Paris, his 318-page autobiography “WE”, the first of 15 books he eventually wrote (or to which he made significant contributions) was published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, run by aviation enthusiast George P. Putnam. The dustjacket notes said that Lindbergh wanted to share the “story of his life and his transatlantic flight together with his views on the future of aviation”, and that “WE” referred to the “spiritual partnership” that had developed “between himself and his airplane during the dark hours of his flight”. Putnam’s had selected the title without Lindbergh’s knowledge, and he complained that “we” actually referred to himself and his St. Louis financial backers, though his frequent unconscious use of the phrase seemed to suggest otherwise.
“WE” was soon translated into most major languages and sold more than 650,000 copies in the first year, earning Lindbergh more than $250,000. Its success was considerably aided by Lindbergh’s three-month, 22,350-mile (35,970 km) tour of the United States in the Spirit on behalf of the Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics. Between July 20 and October 23, 1927 Lindbergh visited 82 cities in all 48 states, delivered 147 speeches, rode 1,290 miles (2,080 km) in parades, was seen by more than 30 million Americans, one quarter of the nation’s population.
Lindbergh then toured 16 Latin America countries between December 13, 1927, and February 8, 1928. Dubbed the “Good Will Tour”, it included stops in Mexico (where he also met his future wife, Anne, the daughter of U.S. Ambassador Dwight Morrow), Guatemala, British Honduras, Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, the Canal Zone, Colombia, Venezuela, St. Thomas, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba, covering 9,390 miles (15,110 km) in just over 116 hours of flight time. A year and two days after it had made its first flight, Lindbergh flew the Spirit from St. Louis to Washington, D.C., where it has been on public display at the Smithsonian Institution ever since. Over the previous 367 days, Lindbergh and the Spirit had logged 489 hours 28 minutes of flight time together.
Lindbergh used his fame to promote air mail service. For example, at the request of the owner of West Indian Aerial Express (and later Pan Am’s chief pilot), in February 1928 he carried some 3,000 pieces of special souvenir mail between Santo Domingo, R.D., Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and Havana, Cuba — the last three stops he and the Spirit made during their 7,800 miles (12,600 km) “Good Will Tour” of Latin America and the Caribbean between December 13, 1927 and February 8, 1928.
Two weeks after his Latin American tour, Lindbergh piloted a series of special flights over his old CAM-2 route on February 20 and February 21. Tens of thousands of self-addressed souvenir covers were sent in from all over the world, so at each stop Lindbergh switched to another of the three planes he and his fellow CAM-2 pilots had used, so it could be said that each cover had been flown by him. The covers were then backstamped and returned to their senders as promotion of the Air Mail Service.
In 1929–1931, Lindbergh carried much smaller numbers of souvenir covers on the first flights over routes in Latin America and the Caribbean, which he had earlier laid out as a consultant to Pan American Airways to be then flown under contract to the Post Office as Foreign Air Mail (FAM) routes 5 and 6.
Lindbergh and the Spirit have been honored by a variety of world postage stamps over the last eight decades, including three issued by the United States. The first was released less than three weeks after the flight (Scott #C10). A 13-cent commemorative stamp (Scott #1710) depicting the Spirit flying low over the Atlantic Ocean was issued on May 20, 1977, the 50th anniversary of the flight from Roosevelt Field. On May 28, 1998, a 32¢ stamp with the legend “Lindbergh Flies Atlantic” (Scott #3184m) depicting Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis was issued as part of the Celebrate the Century stamp sheet series.