Maxwell aimed to reduce electromagnetism to the mechanics of an ether and even proposed a detailed ether model of electromagnetic phenomena that could accommodate light waves. I argue in this paper that Maxwell's undoubted successes in electromagnetism came about in spite, rather than because of his attempts to reduce electromagnetism to mechanics. By the end of the nineteenth century it had become clear that electric charge and the electromagnetic field were primitives on a par with, and not to be reduced to mechanical entities such as mass.
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