The free electron laser: conceptual history
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2016 The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The free electron laser (FEL) has lived up to its promise as given in (Madey 1971 J. Appl. Phys. 42 1906) to wit: 'As shall be seen, finite gain is available ...from the far-infrared through the visible region ...with the further possibility of partially coherent radiation sources in the x-ray region'. In the present paper we review the history of the FEL drawing liberally (and where possible literally) from the original sources. Coauthors, Madey, Scully and Sprangle were involved in the early days of the subject and give a first hand account of the subject with an eye to the future.