Maxwell, Hertz, the Maxwellians, and the early history of electromagnetic waves

Dipak L. Sengupta, Tapan K. Sarkar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


In 1864, Maxwell conjectured from his famous equations that light is a transverse electromagnetic wave. Maxwell's conjecture does not imply that he believed that light could be generated electromagnetically. In fact, he was silent about electromagnetic waves, and their generation and detection. It took almost a quarter of a century before Hertz discovered electromagnetic waves and his brilliant experiments confirmed Maxwell's theory. Maxwell's ideas and equations were expanded, modified, and made understandable by the efforts of Hertz, FitzGerald, Lodge, and Heaviside, the last three being referred to as the "Maxwellians." The early history of electromagnetic waves, up to the death of Hertz in 1894, is briefly discussed. The work of Hertz and the Maxwellians is briefly reviewed in the context of electromagnetic waves. It is found that historical facts do not support the views proposed by some, in the past, that Hertz's epoch-making findings and contributions were "significantly influenced by the Maxwellians".

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13-19
Number of pages7
JournalIEEE Antennas and Propagation Magazine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2003


  • Electromagnetic fields
  • Electromagnetic propagation
  • Electromagnetic waves
  • Hertz
  • History
  • Light
  • Maxwell
  • Maxwell equations
  • Maxwellians

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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