"Murphy's Law" at Edwards AFB, Muroc, Calif.
Barry A. Popik
Bapopik at AOL.COM
Thu Jun 3 13:50:54 UTC 1999
On Tuesday, June 1, I visited Edwards Air Force Base in California. The
History Office (open 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.) is located in Building 1405 at 305
East Popson. I met with the Air Force Flight Test Center historian, Dr.
Raymond L. Puffer (tel.: 805-277-4312)(e-mail:
pufferr%sc.edw at mhs.elan.af.mil, or puffr at ix.netcom.com).
Edwards AFB is about 100 miles outside of Los Angeles, and I didn't want
to drive. Greyhound runs buses at 11:40 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. I took the 11:40
a.m. bus, which gets into a McDonald's in Mohave at 2:10 p.m., and booked the
6 p.m. return. (In retrospect, I should've taken the 5:30 p.m., spent the
night in Mohave, and had an 8 a.m. start. Oh well!)
The 11:40 a.m. Greyhound was a half hour late. I got into the Mohave
McDonald's about 3 p.m. That's about TWENTY MILES from Edwards AFB, and
there was no taxi service and no bus service, either. I rented a car (the
last car, dontcha know) for two hours and got to the base a little before 4
The "Murphy's Law" file was already copied and waiting for me, but
otherwise, time was EXTREMELY limited.
Dr. Puffer was interested in the American Name Society and Grant Smith
might want to write to him about military naming.
MURPHY'S LAW FILE
A 9 April 1976 letter from George E. Nichols is addressed to Professor
Alan Dundes of Univ. Of Cal.-Berkeley. The standard (Jargon File) story is
A standard press release (such as can now be seen on the Edwards AFB web
page) is dated 28 July 1982.
A "Murphy's Law" article appeared in the base newspaper DESERT WINGS, 19
June 1987, pg. 9.
This was in a Daily News (Antelope Valley), 11 February 1991, article:
"Murphy said if there was anyway to do it wrong, that guy would do it,"
project chief George Nichols, now 70, said in a telephone interview from his
home in La Crescenta.
The test's human guinea pig--Air Force Col. John Stapp--modified
Murphy's statement to, "If it can happen, it will happen." The saying
remained an inside joke among the test team until Stapp used it at a Jan. 5,
1950 news conference in explaining why the rocket sled program had been
"He told them, 'We're great believers in Murphy's Law'--and that we
tried to neutralize it," Nichols said. "Everybody wanted to know what the
law was. After the press conference manufacturers started a rush to use it
in their advertising. I didn't think it would take off the way it did."
SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, April 1997, pp. 88-91, did "The Science of Murphy's
Law." Edward A. Murphy III wrote a letter to the publishers in August.
Well, that's it for the file. Nothing from 1949 or the 1950s!
At least I now have the 5 January 1950 press conference date to check.
"NO NAME NEWS" AND "DESERT WINGS"
NO-NAME NEWS published just in 1950. DESERT WINGS began in 1950 and is
I had less than one hour, so I checked through all of 1950. I did NOT
find "Murphy's Law."
Murphy might have been several places. On 7 April 1950, pg. 6, col. 3,
Major John Paul Stapp published "Oscar Eightball: A Tale of 'Whoa.'" A
regular column that began 4 August 1950 was "Sand Storms: Here and There at
EAFB." Starting 27 October 1950 was "The Adventures of Joe Slurch (The base
midget)." The 1 December 1950, pg. 5, col. 2 column contained a fictional
I came across another term. From 15 December 1950, pg. 2:
T/Sgt Kavonen sez, "Too many chiefs and not enough Indians."
(RANDOM HOUSE DICTIONARY OF POPULAR PROVERBS AND SAYINGS: _All chiefs and no
Indians._ Too many bosses and too few workers to get the job done.
Originated in Australia c. 1940 and now used in many English-speaking
countries. First attested in the United States in the 1970s.)
(Nigel Rees, DICTIONARY OF CATCHPHRASES: _too many chiefs and not enough
Indians_ phrase suggesting that to some confused situation there are too
many leaders and not enough led, or that there are too many people giving
orders and instructions but not enough people to carry them out. American in
Who knows if I'll get a chance to read more of DESERT WINGS? Chuck
Yeager found his right stuff at Edwards; "pushing the envelope" is probably
Murphy has passed on, but Stapp and Nichols are still alive. Dr. Puffer
said that Stapp (born in 1910) had recently entered the hospital.
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