I'm sure many readers are aware of the Annals of Improbable Research, published by the people who award the annual Ig Nobel prizes. It's often very funny, as well as interesting. There's also a Web site with much of the same material archived for general interest, plus material that didn't make it into the magazine.
While browsing there yesterday, I came across an article titled 'The Fastest Man on Earth: Why Everything you Know about Murphy's Law is Wrong'. It provides links to four parts, and gives the full story of how Murphy's Law came into existence in its commonly accepted form, and acquired its name. Here's an excerpt from the first part.
This all began a few months ago, after I showed an article I’d written for an aviation history magazine to my neighbor. The article concerned some goings on at Edwards, the famed Air Force flight test facility, in the 1950’s. “You know,” my neighbor said, “You’d probably be real interested in talking to my father, David Hill Sr. He worked at Edwards, on a bunch of rocket sled tests in the 1940’s. In fact,” he continued proudly, “he knew Murphy.”
“Murphy?” I inquired, searching my memory for a test pilot of the same name. Yeager, Crossfield, Armstrong… It didn’t ring a bell.
“You know, Murphy,” he went on. “The guy who invented Murphy’s Law.”
I didn’t say it, but I was absolutely skeptical. Who wouldn’t be? One might as well claim to be friends with Kilroy, know the identity of Deepthroat, or the whereabouts of Amelia Earhart. The notion seemed outright laughable. Your father knew Murphy? Sure he did! If Murphy wasn’t some imaginary Irish folk hero, then he was probably a gentle sage who drank a lot of Guinness and lived back in the 1700’s. Needless to say I let the subject slide.
But a day or two later, I almost tripped over a slender book called Murphy’s Law and Other Reasons Why Things Go Wrong that had been left on my doorstep. The book cited Murphy’s Law and then listed literally hundreds of amusing corollaries. The extremely brief foreword to the volume included a letter written by an engineer named George Nichols. And this is where things got interesting. Nichols said he’d worked on a series of rocket sled tests at Edwards in the 1940’s with a Colonel John Paul Stapp and that Murphy’s Law emerged from these tests.
There's more at the link. Click on the overview for links to all four parts of the article.
I knew there was a real Murphy behind the eponymous law, but I didn't know all the details. This four-part article provides them, and is a very interesting piece of aviation medicine history to boot. Recommended reading, as is the one-volume collected edition of all the derivatives of Murphy's law that's referred to in the excerpt above. I have the three original volumes in my library, and they're a lot of fun.