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Electromagnetism and Electrodynamics in the 19th Century  

Chen-Pang Yeang

Electromagnetism and electrodynamics—studies of electricity, magnetism, and their interactions—are viewed as a pillar of classical physics. In the 1820s and 1830s, Ampère founded electrodynamics as the science of mechanical forces associated with electric currents, and Faraday discovered electromagnetic induction. By the mid-19th century, Neumann, Weber, and others in Germany had established an electrical science that integrated precision measurements with a unified theory based on mathematical potential or forces between electrical corpuscles. Meanwhile, based on Faraday’s findings in electrolysis, dielectrics, diamagnetism, and magneto-optic rotation, Faraday and Thomson in Britain explored a theory of the electromagnetic field. In the 1850s and 1860s, Maxwell further developed the Faraday–Thomson field theory, introduced the displacement current, and predicted the existence of electromagnetic waves. Helmholtz’s reworking of these Maxwellian insights led to Hertz’s discovery of electric waves in 1887.