A cornerstone of physics, Maxwell‘s theory of electromagnetism, apparently contains a fatal flaw. The standard expressions for the electromagnetic field energy and the selfmass of an electron of finite extension do not obey Einstein‘s famous equation, E = mc2, but instead fulfill this relationwith a factor 4/3 on the left-hand side. Furthermore, the energy and momentum of the electromagnetic field associated with the charge fail to transform as a four-vector. Many famous physicists have contributed to the debate of this so-called 4/3-problem without arriving at a complete solution. It has generally
been assumed that, as originally suggested by Poincaré, the problems are connected to the question of stability of the charge distribution, and that relativistic equivalence between energy and self-mass can only be restored by inclusion of stabilizing forces. Alternative solutions to the problems have also been proposed. Nearly a century ago Fermi suggested a covariant definition of the electromagnetic energy and momentum, and sixty years later Kalckar et al. argued that the 4/3 problem is caused by omission of a relativistic correction in the standard evaluation of the self-force from Coulomb
self-interaction. However, the relation between these suggestions has not been clear. We show that the relativistic correction implies that the mechanical momentum of an accelerated rigid body must be defined as the sum of the momenta of its parts for fixed time in the momentary rest frame of the body. For the total momentum of particles and field to be conserved, the total energy–momentum tensor must be divergence free, and this then requires that the momentum of the associated electromagnetic field be defined in the same way, consistent with the suggestion by Fermi. This comprehensive
solution of the 4/3-problem demonstrates that there is no conflict of Maxwell‘s theory with special relativity and the questions of equivalence of electromagnetic energy and self-mass and of stability of a classical charge distribution are independent. In appendices we discuss the relations of our treatment with Fermi‘s seminal paper and with a classic paper by Dirac where he evaluated the damping self-force on a point electron from transport of energy and momentum in the electromagnetic field.