Biographical / Historical
Paul Edward Garber (1899-1992) was instrumental in obtaining a substantial portion of the National Air and Space Museum's aircraft collection. His 72-year tenure with the Smithsonian Institution and his dedication to the belief that aeronautics artifacts were worthy of preservation for the sake of National memory effectively make him the progenitor of the National Air and Space Museum we know today.
Garber was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on 31 August 1899, a few years prior to the development of powered flight. Growing up during this exciting time, young Garber was exposed to a number of experiences that ignited his interest in aeronautics. Garber recalled that, while visiting Washington, D.C., in 1909, he took a streetcar across the Potomac River to watch Orville Wright fly the world's first military airplane at Fort Myer, Virginia.
The Garber family eventually left Atlantic City and permanently settled in Washington, D.C. In 1913 Garber and his schoolmates formed the Capital Model Aeroplane Club, organizing competitions for the making and flying of model aircraft and kites. In 1915, after visiting the Smithsonian Institution, Garber made a copy of Octave Chanute's biplane glider. After testing a smaller model, which he flew as a kite, Garber constructed a 20-foot wingspan version, using barrel staves sawed into thirds as ribs and covering them in red chintz fabric. Over several weekends, Garber made numerous towed take-offs and glides. These flights would eventually qualify him for membership into the Early Birds of Aviation, Inc. Between 1917 and 1918 Garber studied at the McKinley Technical School in Washington, D.C., and the University of Maryland, College Park. He also studied Aeronautical Engineering at the Research University, Washington, 1920-1921. He never received a degree from any institution he attended. Garber finished his teen years by joining the Army in 1918 and was about to begin flight training at College Park when World War I ended. Afterwards, he took a job as a ground crewman and messenger with the United States Post Office Department's Air Mail Service.
In 1920 Garber began his career with the Smithsonian Institution, starting as a "Preparator," dealing with the maintenance of exhibits. Advancing through the ranks, he was at various times an Aide, Assistant Curator, and Associate Curator. During World War II, Garber's talents in modeling and kite making allowed him to accept a commission in the U.S. Navy at the rank of Lt. Commander. His military target kites became an important part of gunnery training, serving as both targets and examples for identifying enemy aircraft. Following the ending of the war, Garber resigned at the rank of Commander and returned to the Smithsonian where, in 1952, he became the first Curator of the National Air Museum, which was created by act of Congress in 1946.
On 10 May 1952 Garber married Irene Tusch, daughter of the aeronautical enthusiast Mary E. "Mother" Tusch
. Throughout the next decade plus, Garber received promotions to Head Curator and Senior Historian, serving in this last position until 1965. From 1965 to 1969, Garber was the Assistant Director of Aeronautics. Forced to retire by Federal law upon reaching the age of 70, Garber received the honorary lifetime titles of Historian Emeritus
and Ramsey Fellow
Garber wrote several books on aeronautics and flight: Building and Flying Model Aircraft. A Guide for Youthful Beginners in Aeronautics, 1920; We: The Story of Achievement in Aviation, 1929; Kites and Kite Flying, 1931; Flying in Safety, 1939; and Navy Target Kites, 1944. He wrote multiple editions on the National Aircraft/Aeronautical Collections (1941, 1949, 1956, and 1965), as well as numerous pamphlets, handbooks, encyclopedia entries, and articles on aviation-related subjects.
In addition to his writing and lecturing, he was the recipient of many awards and trophies, including: the Washington Air Derby Association Trophy, 1954; the Air Line Traffic Association Citation, 1955; the Frank G. Brewer Trophy for Youth Education, 1959; the Elder Statesman of Aviation Award, 1964; the Trasvolata Atlantica Medal from Italy, 1964; the Santos-Dumont Medal of Merit from Brazil, 1966; the Paul Tissandier Diplome from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (F.A.I.), 1968; the Smithsonian Institution's Gold Medal, 1969; the Order Rio Branco, 1969; the Mérito Aeronáutico Medal from Brazil, 1974; named an honorary pilot in the Brazilian Air Force, 1982; recipient of the Medalha Mérito Tamandaré of Brazil, 1983; named to the OX-5 Club's Aviation Hall of Fame, 1974; and received the Laskowitz Gold Medal from the New York Academy of Sciences, 1979. Garber was also made Honorary Naval Aviator #17 during the mid-1980's. He was a member of the National Aeronautics Association, the Air Mail Pioneers, the Early Birds of Aviation, Inc.
(Secretary, 1956-1960; President 1968, 1976-77), the Connecticut Aeronautical Historical Society, the National Aviation Club, and the National Space Club.
Paul Garber died in his sleep at Arlington Hospital on 23 September 1992. His acquisition efforts and advocacy on behalf of the National Air and Space Museum continue to live on in the form of its rich aircraft collections. The National Air and Space Museum's Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration, and Storage Facility
, formerly known as "Silver Hill," is named in his honor.