Murphy’s law of failure

Murphy’s Law (“If anything can go wrong, it will“) was born at Edwards Air Force Base in 1949 at North Base.

It was named after Capt. Edward Murphy (born in 1918), an engineer working on Air Force Project MX981, a project designed to see how much sudden deceleration a person/humanoid can stand in a crash with subsequent tests performed by medical doctor John P. Stapp, then an Air Force captain. Featured on the cover of Time magazine in the 1950’s, Stapp became known as the “Fastest Man on Earth” for his G-force experiments, which involved the use of rocket sleds. He was a famous researcher who helped develop restraint systems including automobile seatbelts.

Murphy was engaged in supporting this research using high speed centrifuges to generate G-forces. One day, Murphy’s assistant wired the harness, and a trial was run using a chimpanzee. The sensors provided a zero reading, however; it became apparent that they had been installed incorrectly, with each sensor wired backwards. It was at this point that a disgusted Murphy cursed the technician responsible and said, “If there is any way to do it wrong, he’ll find it,” despite having the possibility to calibrate and test the sensor installation prior to the test proper, which he declined, not getting along well with the project team.

The contractor’s project manager, present at the time when Murphy told the phrase, kept a list of “laws” and added this one, which he called Murphy’s Law.

While the origins of the law are still debated, everyone agreed that Stapp played a critical role in popularizing Murphy’s Law. After the incident, he gave a press conference during which he said that their good safety record on the project was due to a firm belief in Murphy’s Law and in the necessity to try and circumvent it. Aerospace manufacturers picked it up and used it widely in their ads during the next few months, and soon it was being quoted in many news and magazine articles.

Murphy’s Law was born .

One dark evening in 1990, Murphy’s car ran out of gas. As he hitchhiked to a gas station, while facing traffic, he was struck from behind by a British tourist who was driving on the wrong side of the road.

A variation of the original Murphy law favored among hackers is a takeoff on the second law of thermodynamics: The perversity of the Universe tends towards a maximum.

P.S. Stapp had a paradox of his own, Stapp’s Ironical Paradox, which says, “The universal aptitude for ineptitude makes any human accomplishment an incredible miracle.”

Sources: Murphy’s Laws site; The Desert Wings, March 3, 1978; Annals of Improbable Research (AIR)

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