Edward Aloysius Murphy, Jr.
(January 11, 1918 – July 17, 1990
was an American aerospace engineer who worked on safety-critical systems and
is best-known for the eponymous Murphy's Law, which states that "If there's
more than one way to do a job, and one of those ways will result in
disaster, then somebody will do it that way." This is not to be confused
with Finagle's law.
Born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1918, Murphy was the
eldest of five children. After
attending high school in New Jersey, he went to the United States Military
Academy at West Point, graduating in 1940. The same year he accepted a
commission into the United States Army, and undertook pilot training with
the United States Army Air Corps in 1941. During World War II he served in
the Pacific Theatre in India, China and Burma (now known as Myanmar),
achieving the rank of Major.
Following the end of hostilities, in 1947 Murphy attended the United
States Air Force Institute of Technology, becoming R&D Officer at the Wright
Air Development Centre of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. It was while here
that he became involved in the high-speed rocket sled experiments (USAF
project MX981, 1949) which led to the coining of Murphy's Law.
Murphy himself was reportedly unhappy with the commonplace interpretation of
his law, which is seen as capturing the essential "cussedness" of inanimate
objects. Murphy regarded the law as crystallising a key principle of
defensive design, in which one should always assume worst-case scenarios.
Murphy was said by his son to have regarded the many jocular versions of the
law as "ridiculous, trivial and erroneous", his unsuccessful attempts to
have the law taken more seriously thus making him a victim of his own law.
In 1952, having resigned from the United States Air Force, Murphy carried
out a series of rocket acceleration tests at Holloman Air Force Base, then
returned to California to pursue a career in aircraft cockpit design for a
series of private contractors. He worked on crew escape systems for some of
the most famous experimental aircraft of the 20th century, including the F-4
Phantom II, the XB-70 Valkyrie, the SR-71 Blackbird, the B-1 Lancer, and the
X-15 rocket plane.
During the 1960s, he worked on safety and life support systems for
Project Apollo, and ended his career with work on pilot safety and
computerized operation systems on the Apache helicopter. He died in 1990.