Skip to main content

Murphy's Law Disasters and Historical Events Gone Wrong

As a therapist, Janis is fascinated by the way social behavior is influenced by the media, socio-political trends, and historical events.

The Space Shuttle Challenger Explosion Shocked the Country

The explosion of the Challenger occurred at take off, right before our eyes.

The explosion of the Challenger occurred at take off, right before our eyes.

Murphy's Law: "If Something Can Go Wrong, It Will"

We trip and fall, we have accidents, get stuck in traffic delays, flub speeches, get flat tires, and spill coffee on our brand new suits. We anticipate the worst case scenarios because we expect "Murphy" to show up uninvited.

Murphy's Law has been a part of our recorded history as early as the 1800s, as far as we know. But the concept of "things going wrong" had to have been a part of our existence since the beginning of time.

What is "Murphy's Law?"

According to history, the term was coined inadvertently in the late 1940s when a Captain Murphy of the US Air Force made a statement about a technician making an error that could cause a problem with the manufacturing and operation of aircraft.

This statement later went on to be applied to most things having to do with engineering, mechanics, and aviation science, accompanied by the pessimistic thinking that, "If there's a way to do something wrong, it will be."

Your Experience with Murphy's Law

It's a Part of Life

The origins of the term "Murphy's Law" have been rife with controversy and contradiction for years, due to the disagreements and numerous reports about who said what and when. Regardless of its exact origins, the phenomenon of Murphy's Law is something to which we have all come to relate and experience from time to time.

We have witnessed Murphy's Law collectively on the television, at the scene or site of an event, or as individuals in our personal lives. Whether it's caused by the laws of science, pessimistic attitudes, poor planning, fate, hastiness, karma, the wrath of God, or just plain old bad luck, Murphy's Law happens to all of us in some measure.

"If anything just cannot go wrong, it will anyway."

"Anything that can go wrong will go wrong."

"Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse."

"If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will cause the most damage will be the one to go wrong."

— Murphy's Laws Site

The following events demonstrate the true meaning of Murphy's Law, precisely because they began with so much promise, build up, and anticipation of successful completion. But as the familiar adage says, "If something can go wrong, it will go wrong." Some are significant historical events while others are pop culture occurrences which left lasting iconic impressions as witnessed through national and international media.

A few made us laugh and some made us cry, as we gasped in disbelief, asking ourselves, "What just happened?" Whatever the effect these events had on our psyches, the outcomes were far from what we expected, thanks to Murphy's Law.

Ten Memorable Impacted Events

1. The Obama Healthcare Website Launch Debacle

On October 1, 2013, the Obama Administration launched its highly anticipated website that would make history, overhauling the American healthcare system. It was touted as giving unprecedented access to affordable healthcare and fair medical insurance premiums and benefits plans to all Americans who wanted it.

Unfortunately, on that infamous day, no one could properly access or successfully navigate through the website.

It has gone down in history as one of, if not the most embarrassing project put out by any presidential administration. The debacle left the President and his Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, scrambling to fix a problem that grew within the ensuing weeks, way beyond anyone's imagination, kudos to the power of Murphy's Law.

2. Facebook Stock Shares Sales / IPO Disaster

Facebook held its IPO (initial public offering) on May 18, 2012. It was dubbed as the biggest event in social media technology and internet history. Mark Zuckerberg, the company creator and CEO, was ready to sell shares after years of speculation, and thought he had waited long enough to launch the selling of shares at the perfect time.

Somewhere along the way, Zuckerberg decided to sell more than he had originally planned, which turned out not to be a good idea.

Technical glitches on trading day also seemed not to bode well for the company. Although trading went well initially, making Zuckerberg's stock worth $19 billion, the plunge in share value over subsequent days created one of the biggest fiascoes in business history, reverberating throughout the technology industry.

Scroll to Continue

Lawsuits against the company are currently pending. This classic blunder demonstrates Murphy's Law operating at one of its finest moments in history.

3. The Presidential Election of 2000 - The Recount

If you were old enough to vote for the first time in the presidential election of 2000, you will definitely remember how the events surrounding the election defined the importance of every vote.

Some may argue that Murphy's Law had nothing to do with this circus of historic proportions, placing blame on poor reporting by news networks and inept ballot-counting practices in the state of Florida.

The Democrats thought Al Gore won the presidency, as was erroneously reported by network broadcasters, while the Republicans held on to faith that George W. Bush would be the next president.

Over several days, voting ballots in Florida were recounted by hand, one by one, to confirm that George W. Bush had indeed been elected the 43rd President of the United States.

4. Flubbed Speeches by Politicians

There's nothing funnier than to see a polished politician lose his composure by making an incorrect or blundered statement in public.

No one does it better than our beloved 43rd President, George W.The video to the right speaks for itself.

Even President Obama has been known to make a few blunders himself. His are particularly entertaining because he is known to be the smooth, articulate, urbane president.

Of course, most of the speeches and appearances made by politicians are planned, or at least rehearsed and formatted for them to follow. So when they trip over themselves, we have to chalk it up to Murphy's Law and have a good laugh.

5. Inclement Weather - Diana Ross's Central Park Concert

Have you ever gotten tickets to attend the concert of a lifetime? Slated to perform is your favorite band or solo artist, making a debut in your hometown, only to find that the weather forecast threatens the event.

Inclement weather probably ranks at the top of Murphy's Law spoilers. On July 21, 1983, Diana Ross had such a concert in Central Park for all of her New York City fans. Murphy's Law worked overtime on that day, delivering torrential rains and high winds to interrupt the show. But Miss Ross stayed out for as long as she could to perform before she was forced to postpone the concert . . . for the very next day, like a true diva.

6. Advertising and Product Blunders - "The New Coke"

There have been many product launches that proved to be duds. But no product blunder made history like the introduction of "The New Coke."

During the soft drink battle for taste in the late 1980s, The Coca-Cola Company decided to change the recipe of its #1 cola soft drink. Why? Who knows, but it turned out to be the worst disaster in new product campaign history.

The New Coke did not sell and was pulled within a few weeks after backlash was received from Coke fans who wanted the tried and true taste of the original Coke. They got it back with a new name - Classic Coke.

Classic Coke

Classic Coke will always be the favorite for most traditional cola drinkers.

Classic Coke will always be the favorite for most traditional cola drinkers.

Disasters and Losses

The last four events are grouped together due to the tragic nature and loss of life that followed. These much anticipated occasions were meant to be joyous, historical events of memorable achievement. Instead, Murphy's Law seemed to rear its ugly head at the wrong time.

These events shockingly did not go as planned, leaving us with horrible memories of sudden death, disaster, and unspeakable loss.

7. The Challenger Explosion - On the morning of January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded in the air when a booster engine failed. The horrific event shocked viewers as they watched the event on live television. The disaster killed the crew of seven instantly, only 73 seconds into the launch.

8. The Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster - On February 1, 2003, the Columbia disaster stunned the members of NASA as the Space Shuttle, hailed as the first to enter space, broke apart in flames as it re-entered the Earth's atmosphere after its mission. It had successfully carried many astronauts since 1981. The crew of seven was killed and never to be forgotten.

The Challenger Crew

The Challenger Crew  the day before the fateful launch.

The Challenger Crew the day before the fateful launch.

The Space Shuttle Columbia

The Space Shuttle Columbia on that ill-fated morning, preparing for take off.

The Space Shuttle Columbia on that ill-fated morning, preparing for take off.

9. The Hindenburg Crash - The LZ 129 Hindenburg was a German passenger airship, carrying 36 passengers and a crew of 61. On May 6, 1937, the massive airship caught fire as it attempted to land at a naval air station dock in Lakehurst, New Jersey. It went down in flames, becoming the first sensational disaster ever witnessed, with unprecedented news coverage at that time. A total of 36 people were killed.

10. The Sinking of the Titanic - Four days into her maiden voyage, the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg, causing it to sink on April 15, 1912, killing 1500 of the estimated 2,224 people on board. The luxury liner incident was met with much controversy and investigation that led to changes in maritime regulations and a host of feature films, including the wildly successful "Titanic," released in 1997 under the direction of James Cameron.

Titanic at Cherbourg

Titanic at Cherbourg

Reconciling Murphy's Law

Murphy's Law is an expectation we've come to live with as we accept the disappointments or the humor that can follow mishaps. We have learned to embrace and adjust to happenstances that come our way fortuitously, as we attempt to plan for the best outcomes.

We offer to each other words of reason and comfort to amend our attitudes about our lack of control over what happens. For example, we hear cliches like:

  • Everything happens for a reason
  • It will all work out for the best
  • God has a different plan
  • It wasn't meant to be
  • Better luck next time
  • "Stuff" happens

In our acceptance of Murphy's Law as a part of a complete universe, we can only hope for the best, plan for the worse, and cherish every experience along the way as a divine gift or opportunity for growth.

© 2014 Janis Leslie Evans


Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on December 01, 2018:

Thank you.

poetryman6969 on November 30, 2018:

An interesting take on history.

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on November 16, 2016:

Great observation, Greensleeves. I think you're on to something about how a lot of things are rushed. Time and care isn't taken like they used to be. There is a need for instant gratification so we tend too rush in haste. Thanks for that angle and your visit.

Greensleeves Hubs from Essex, UK on November 16, 2016:

Too often I feel these misshaps, disasters and blunders occur as a result of pressure or over-confidence. Pressure to launch the Challenger space shuttle on time inspite of unusually cold conditions, and pressure from the competition to get the result of the 2000 Presidential election out as quickly as possible, I think may be two examples - one serious, one minor - that you've given above. Coupled perhaps with over-confidence that the procedures would work as usual, and that everything would be OK.

Today the pace of technological change and the race to be first with anything means that inadequate checks are sometimes made, too little caution is shown, and actions are taken without due regard for exactly what can go wrong. How often, as with the shuttle disasters, are accidents of any kind traced back to some seemingly trivial oversight, failure of communication or simple neglect of a routine, mundane check? Too often, is the answer.

'Act in haste and repent at leisure' I think sums up the cause of too many cases of things going wrong. If we're lucky such mistakes simply lead to public relations embarrassments. But if we're unlucky, it can lead to tragedy.

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on May 17, 2015:

You're so welcome, Kathleen. Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for making this hub a part of your rainy Sunday.

Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on May 17, 2015:

This was an interesting read on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Thanks for the entertainment!

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on January 02, 2015:

Thank you, Kenneth. So glad you loved this hub. I wish you and your family a blessed and Happy New Year.

Kenneth Avery from Hamilton, Alabama on January 02, 2015:


This is a great hub. I loved it. I just wanted to say, Happy New Year to you and yours. May 2015 be the BEST Ever.

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on January 02, 2015:

That is very true, agvulpes. Thanks for taking the time to visit and read this hub. I appreciate the follow, too.

Peter from Australia on January 01, 2015:

Murphys Law - oh yes I have witnessed it many times.

In my experience it has a lot to do with 'human error', laziness, etc. to do the job properly in the first instance.

Kenneth Avery from Hamilton, Alabama on May 13, 2014:


You are very welcome. I meant every word. You are one talented writer and I urge you to never give it up. No matter what.

I will be looking for a notification that you are my new follower.

That would make me very happy.



Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on May 13, 2014:

Oh, Kenneth, very nice comments. I'm glad you liked this hub. It was fun to research, write, and create hub form. I appreciate your visit, follow, and generous fanmail.

Kenneth Avery from Hamilton, Alabama on May 13, 2014:

Hi, Jan,

I loved this piece. Great read. Incredible research and photos. Unusual topic, but explained with such intelligence. Thank you. I voted you UP and all the way.

I left you some fan mail. And now a follower.

I cordially invite you to read over one or two of my hubs and become one of my followers. That would make me so happy.


Kenneth/ from northwest Alabama

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on March 18, 2014:

Thank you, Jodah. This one was fun to do, I appreciate your comments and vote.

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on March 18, 2014:

Great article Jan, thoroughly entertaining and had me interested throughout.Well done. Voted up.

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on March 08, 2014:

Thank you so much, kerland74, for your visit and for reading it. Glad you liked it, appreciate the vote.

kerlund74 from Sweden on March 08, 2014:

Very interesting and well written. So this is why we always try to prepare ourselves for all kinds of things to happen. Voted!

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on March 05, 2014:

Thank you very much, DDE. I wish you the best in the challenge also. Thanks for reading this hub. I was so happy when it made the cut last week.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on March 05, 2014:

Well done to for the challenge ahead and your hubs moat interesting

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on March 03, 2014:

Ha ha ha, yup. I have to look up Loughran's. Thanks for reading merej99.

Meredith Loughran from Florida on March 03, 2014:

LOL - there's Steve's Law and then there's Loughran Law, which is why there is no point in lying or cheating 'cause we don't get away with anything. hehe

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on March 03, 2014:

Ha ha ha ha, yes, I read that while doing my research. Thanks, stevarino. I appreciate your stopping by to read.

Steve Dowell from East Central Indiana on March 03, 2014:

Then there is "Steve's Law" - "Murphy was an optimist."

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on March 02, 2014:

I appreciate that observation, Ron. Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

Ronald E Franklin from Mechanicsburg, PA on March 02, 2014:

I think the sinking of the Titanic is maybe the best example of Murphy's Law. A whole series of things had to go wrong to bring about that disaster, none of which seemed probable beforehand. To my mind the very idea that the ship was "unsinkable" demonstrates the hubris that leads people to think Murphy's Law won't apply to them. Interesting hub!

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on March 01, 2014:

Hi Kathleen, thanks for taking the time to read it. Yes, the Challenger is a sensitive example because of the facts we know and not seeing beyond them. Interesting point, "failure of imagination." Thanks for the comments.

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on March 01, 2014:

Thanks, VVanNess, glad you liked it!

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on March 01, 2014:

Thank you very much for the congrats, FlourishAnyway. Glad I was able to illustrate the points.

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on March 01, 2014:

Thank you so much for those comments on faith, optimism, and evil forces other than "Murphy", word55. I believe it in it all. I remember, too well, watching that space shuttle in tears. I recall more sorrow and shock than anything else. I'm so glad you liked this hub and the testimony you share. Thanks for the congrats!

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on March 01, 2014:

Surprises are great! I thought I posted mine for the Friday challenge so I was a bit thrown to hear that I had been picked because I thought I missed the midnight deadline. Didn't realize I was going by my EST clock, not HP's PST in California.(duh, lol!)

Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on March 01, 2014:

Great topic. Many people have called Murphy and optimist: what do you mean "IF" something can go wrong!

I would take exception to incidents like the Challenger that exploded because the O Rings had never been test at freezing temperatures and the morning of the launch was a freak below freezing day for south Florida. That wasn't Murphy - that was a failure of imagination.

Still, great topic done very well.

Victoria Van Ness from Fountain, CO on March 01, 2014:

How cool! This was a very interesting article!

FlourishAnyway from USA on March 01, 2014:

Congratulations on the HubPot top 10 designation. Your hub had so many good examples. Some of them are also used in teaching the perils of groupthink.

Al Wordlaw from Chicago on March 01, 2014:

Hi Jan, that was some very interesting work about Murphy's Law. You brought out and brought back some humorous and sad memories of American history. However, with the combination of faith that breeds optimism, I refuse to believe in, allow or give in to such a distasteful, imaginary law. Having faith won't allow it! You see, the September 11th, USA disaster happened, due to satanic forces that are more prevalent than that so called “law”. Also, in 1986, I watched (in horror) as that space shuttle burst into flames. At the time, and to now, I felt that satanic forces had all to do with it, as well. We should all believe in God, His Commands, His Promises and be obedient to His Word. Thanks for your marvelous work and congratulations on this being a winning hub. - :)

Faith Reaper from southern USA on February 28, 2014:

Bless you too. I was thinking that they were only picking the winner from the hubs published on Monday, so I was thinking it was for the hub I published on Monday, but when I checked it was my last hub. LOL

That is great they are choosing ten each day!

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on February 28, 2014:

So glad you found the list. I found out the same way by a hubber reading my hub and congratulating me in the comment section, lol. I had no clue either, Faith. Thank you so much for reading and sharing. Bless you.

Faith Reaper from southern USA on February 28, 2014:

Congrats to you too for being in the top 10 for the challenge and thank you for letting me know I am too! LOL

Wow, this hub is great! I have experienced many incidents of Murphy's Law. You have written a very profound hub here and have written it so beautifully.

Up and more and sharing


Faith Reaper

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on February 28, 2014:

Really? Where did you see that? OMG, I guess I am glad I burned the midnight oil. WOW, thanks for reading it, merej99, and for the heads up. Glad you liked it. I need to go check it out!

Meredith Loughran from Florida on February 28, 2014:

CONGRATULATIONS in being in the top 10 for the challenge!

This is a great article! And aren't you glad that you burned the midnight oil now? :D

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on February 28, 2014:

Thank you much, Sheri Faye. Love that attitude!

Sheri Dusseault from Chemainus. BC, Canada on February 28, 2014:

Great article! I am more of a glass half full type but those are great examples.

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on February 28, 2014:

Thank you, MsDora. Glad you liked it and feel informed. It was an interesting one to do. I learned a lot myself through the research.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on February 28, 2014:

Thank you for the information on the origin of this term. The incidents you quoted are interesting and illustrative. Really good job!

Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on February 28, 2014:

Thank you so much, swilliams. I appreciate the "deep" comment. I've had a pink sticky on my computer for several months with scribbling, "hub on Murphy's Law." I'm glad I finally got it done.

swilliams on February 28, 2014:

Wow Jan! What a deep article! Very well written. Leaving one food for thought. Very original!

Related Articles