Ebenezer Cunningham

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Ebenezer Cunningham (7 May 1881, Hackney, London – 12 February 1977) was a British mathematician who is remembered for his research and exposition at the dawn of special relativity.


Cunningham went up to St John's College, Cambridge in 1899 and graduated Senior Wrangler in 1902, winning the Smith's Prize in 1904.[1]

In 1904, as a lecturer at the University of Liverpool, he began work on a new theorem in relativity with fellow lecturer Harry Bateman. They brought the methods of inversive geometry into electromagnetic theory with their transformations (spherical wave transformation):

Each four-dimensional solution [to Maxwell's equations] could then be inverted in a four-dimensional hypersphere of pseudo-radius K in order to produce a new solution. Central to Cunningham's paper was the demonstration that Maxwell's equations retained their form under these transformations.[2]

He worked with Karl Pearson in 1907 at University College London. Cunningham married Ada Collins in 1908.

In August 1911 he returned to St John's College where he made his career. When drafted for the war in 1915 he did alternative service growing food and in an office at the YMCA. He held a university lectureship from 1926 to 1946.

His book The Principle of Relativity (1914) was one of the first treatises in English about special relativity, along with those by Alfred Robb and Ludwik Silberstein. He followed with Relativity and the Electron Theory (1915) and Relativity, Electron Theory and Gravitation (1921). McCrea writes that Cunningham had doubts whether general relativity produced "physical results adequate return for mathematical elaboration."

He was an ardent pacifist, strongly religious, a member of Emmanuel United Reformed Church, Cambridge and chairman of the Congregational Union of England and Wales for 1953–54.


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  1. ^ "Cunningham, Ebenezer (CNNN899E)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  2. ^ Warwick, page 423.
  3. ^ Cunningham, Ebenezer (1910). "The principle of Relativity in Electrodynamics and an Extension Thereof". Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society. 8: 77–98. doi:10.1112/plms/s2-8.1.77.


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