The long path to Maxwell's formulation and the improvements that followed allowing it to become a core component of science and engineering. (via IEEE Spectrum)
It could be argued that these equations got their start 150 years ago this month, when Maxwell presented his theory uniting electricity and magnetism before the Royal Society of London, publishing a full report the next year, in 1865. It was this work that set the stage for all the great accomplishments in physics, telecommunications, and electrical engineering that were to follow.
But there was a long gap between the presentation and the utilization. The mathematical and conceptual underpinnings of Maxwell’s theory were so complicated and counterintuitive that his theory was largely neglected after it was first introduced.
It took nearly 25 years for a small group of physicists, themselves obsessed with the mysteries of electricity and magnetism, to put Maxwell’s theory on solid footing. They were the ones who gathered the experimental evidence needed to confirm that light is made up of electromagnetic waves. And they were the ones who gave his equations their present form. Without the Herculean efforts of this group of “Maxwellians,” so named by historian Bruce J. Hunt, of the University of Texas at Austin, it might have taken decades more before our modern conception of electricity and magnetism was widely adopted. And that would have delayed all the incredible science and technology that was to follow.