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Record Unit 9592,  Garber, Paul Edward, 1899-1992. interviewee,  Paul Edward Garber Interviews,

Repository: Smithsonian Institution Archives, Washington, D.C. Contact us at osiaref@si.edu.
Creator: Garber, Paul Edward, 1899-1992. interviewee
Title: Paul Edward Garber Interviews
Dates:
Quantity: 8 audiotapes (Reference copies).
Collection: Record Unit 9592
Language of Materials: English
Summary:

These interviews of Garber by Miriam S. Freilicher cover his youth, his career at the Smithsonian, the acquisition of famous aircraft, his work for the Navy during World War II, the establishment of the National Air Museum, planning the new NASM building, and life after retirement.

Historical Note

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.

Introduction

The Smithsonian Institution Archives began its Oral History Program in 1973. The purpose of the program is to supplement the written documentation of the Archives' record and manuscript collections with an Oral History Collection, focusing on the history of the Institution, research by its scholars, and contributions of its staff. Program staff conduct interviews with current and retired Smithsonian staff and others who have made significant contributions to the Institution. There are also interviews conducted by researchers or students on topics related to the history of the Smithsonian or the holdings of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Paul E. Garber was interviewed for the Oral History Collection because of his seminal role in the development of the National Air and Space Museum during his sixty-nine years at the Smithsonian.

Descriptive Entry

Garber was interviewed in 1974 by Smithsonian Institution Archives Historian Miriam S. Freilicher. The interviews discuss his background, living in Washington, D.C., as a child, and early interest in flying; his early career at the Smithsonian as a Preparator; the acquisition of many of the famous aircraft in the National Air and Space Museum collection; his career in the United States Navy during World War II; and the early years of the National Air Museum. The collection consists of 8.0 hours of audiotape recording and 187 pages of transcript, and occupies 0.5 linear meters of shelf space. There are two generations of tape for each session: original tapes and reference tapes. In total, this collection is comprised of 8 original 5" reel-to-reel tapes and 8 reference copy audiotape cassettes. Box 1 contains transcripts of the interviews and cassette copies of the original reel to reel recordings, which are in security storage.

Preferred Citation

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 9592, Garber, Paul Edward, 1899-1992. interviewee, Paul Edward Garber Interviews

Container List

Box 1

Transcripts of Interviews

Interview 1: 23 April 1974

Box 1 of 1

Covers his youth, early interest in aviation, and the Langley-Wright controversy, including: family, early history and moving to Washington, D.C., in 1910;flying a kite on Connecticut Avenue and meeting Alexander Graham Bell; visiting the Smithsonian when he was young; early interest in kites; his education; watching Orville Wright and Frank P. Lahm fly airplanes at Fort Meyer; airplanes and models displayed in the Arts and Industries Building; building a glider based on an Octave Chanute model; learning to fly at Bolling Field during World War I; beginning of the air mail service and his involvement in it; getting his first job at the Smithsonian as a Preparator; Third Smithsonian Secretary Samuel P. Langley and his Aerodrome, a flying machine which he designed but never actually flew; the Langley-Wright Controversy including how it started, how it was resolved, and the roles of Charles D. Walcott, Charles G. Abbot, Glenn Hammond Curtiss, and Albert F. Zahm, 1899-1920s.
Transcript, pp. 1-47, of audiotape recording, 2.0 hours.

Interview 2: 7 May 1974

Box 1 of 1

Covers his early career at the Smithsonian, the Air Building, and the acquisition of the Spirit of St. Louis, including: early career at the Smithsonian, his duties as Preparator, and what exhibits were in the Smithsonian when he first started; the Smithsonian budget in his early years; the work atmosphere at the Smithsonian; how he acquired early aircraft; constructing models for the museum; writing labels for objects; history of the original Air Building in the South Yard; the acquisition of the Spirit of St. Louis; and establishment of the Section of Aeronautics, 1920-1952.
Transcript, pp. 48-94, of audiotape recording, 2.0 hours.

Interview 3: 14 May 1974

Box 1 of 1

Covers his work for the U.S. Navy during World War II, the founding of the National Air Museum, the Park Ridge, Illinois, facility, and the beginning of the Silver Hill Facility, including: the story of the Winnie Mae and its pilot, Wiley Post, and how it came to the Smithsonian; the story of the Polar Star and how it came to the Smithsonian; his work in the United States Navy during World War II; Garber's ten factors in selecting artifacts for the museum; the founding of the National Air Museum in 1946; the storage facility at Park Ridge, Illinois; trying to get airplanes for the museum when Roosevelt Field closed; looking for and setting up the Silver Hill Facility; the death of Stanley Potter; the appointment of Philip S. Hopkins as the first director of the National Air Museum, 1930-1950s.
Transcript, pp. 95-139, of audiotape recording, 2.0 hours.

Interview 4: 26 June 1974

Box 1 of 1

Covers the 1946 act establishing the museum, planning the new museum building, and life after retirement, including: the 1946 act establishing the National Air Museum; planning a new building to house the museum; finding a site for the building; the statue of General William Mitchell; the appointment of Philip S. Hopkins as Director of the museum; obtaining the site for the museum; preservation of airplanes with emphasis on the NC-4;activities after retirement including the film series being made with the Ramsey fund; his continuing interest in kites, 1946-1974.
Transcript, pp. 140-187, of audiotape recording, 2.0 hours.

Audio Recordings of Interviews

Interview 1: 23 April 1974

Box 1 of 1

Total Recording Time: 2.0 hours
Original Masters: 2 5" reel-to-reel analog audiotapes
Reference Copies: 2 audiotape cassettes

Interview 2: 7 May 1974

Box 1 of 1

Total Recording Time: 2.0 hours
Original Masters: 2 5" reel-to-reel analog audiotapes
Reference Copies: 2 audiotape cassettes

Interview 3: 14 May 1974

Box 1 of 1

Total Recording Time: 2.0 hours
Original Masters: 2 5" reel-to-reel analog audiotapes
Reference Copies: 2 audiotape cassettes

Interview 4: 26 June 1974

Box 1 of 1

Total Recording Time: 2.0 hours
Original Masters: 2 5" reel-to-reel analog audiotapes
Reference Copies: 2 audiotape cassettes