Paul Edward Garber (1899-1992), was the first Curator of the National Air Museum, now the National Air and Space Museum. Garber was born on August 31, 1899, in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and moved permanently to Washington, D.C., with his family in 1910. He developed an interest in flight early in life with kites, and it continued with airplanes when he saw Orville Wright fly at Fort Meyer, Virginia, in 1909 while on a trip to Washington with his father. His interest in flight continued to grow as he visited airplane exhibits at the Smithsonian and flew kites on his own. Once while flying a kite outside his family home on Connecticut Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C., he met Alexander Graham Bell, who helped him fix it. During World War I, Garber joined the D.C. National Guard, and then transferred to the United States Army as a Sergeant where he learned to fly airplanes at Bolling Field. After the war, he joined the Air Mail Service as a ground crewman, headquartered at College Park, Maryland.
Garber joined the staff of the Smithsonian Institution in 1920 as a Preparator in the Division of Mechanical Technology where he repaired objects and built models for exhibition. This began his long career at the Smithsonian during which he followed his passion for flight and built a world-class collection of airplanes. Among the airplanes Garber acquired for the collection are the Curtiss NC-4, the first aircraft to fly across the Atlantic; Lincoln Ellsworth's Northrop Gamma Polar Star, which made the first flight across the Antarctic; Wiley Post's Winnie Mae, which established a number of speed records; and Charles A. Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis. During World War II, Garber took military leave from the Smithsonian from 1941 to 1946 and worked for the United States Navy. While a Commander in the Navy, he built recognition models of enemy planes to teach pilots, gunners and observers how to identify the enemy planes.
When the National Air Museum was officially founded on August 12, 1946, Garber was appointed its first Curator. During the early years of the museum, Garber spent much time commuting between Washington, D.C., and Park Ridge, Illinois, where the museum had a storage facility for military aircraft in a Douglas Company building used for airplane assembly during World War II. The Korean conflict made it essential that the storage facility be put back into operation, so Garber had the task of finding a new storage facility. He conducted aerial surveys of the D.C. area by airplane and found suitable land in the Silver Hill area of Maryland. The twenty-one acres of land was acquired by the Smithsonian, and storage and restoration facilities were built. In 1980 the facility was renamed the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration, and Storage Facility.
In 1967, Garber, in association with The Smithsonian Associates, founded the annual Smithsonian Kite Festival which was first held on March 25, 1967. The festival included kite flying on the National Mall, kite-making workshops, a lecture series, and a special display of kites made by Garber and his wife. In 1969, at the age of 70, Garber retired after serving the Smithsonian for forty-nine years. He continued to work at the museum for another twenty years as Historian Emeritus, and he was the museum's first Ramsey Fellow. He died on September 23, 1992, at the age of 93.