But they [most historians of science like Holton] argue that it was Einstein who completely eliminated the classical ether ...Yes, most historians like Holton say that, but it is also directly contrary to what other reputable sources say. For example, a very prominent physicist says:
“Quite undeservedly, the ether has acquired a bad name. There is a myth repeated in many popular presentations and textbooks, that Albert Einstein swept it into the dustbin of history. The real story is more complicated and interesting. I argue here that the truth is more nearly the opposite: Einstein first purified, and then enthroned, the ether concept. As the 20th century has progressed, its role in fundamental physics has only expanded. At present, renamed and thinly disguised, it dominates the accepted laws of physics.” [Fantastic Realities: 49 Mind Journeys And a Trip to Stockholm, By Frank Wilczek, Betsy Devine, 2006, p.293]Yes, Wilczek is correct. Yes, the aether is essential to modern theories of electromagnetism. The biggest physics news of the 21st century is the discovery of the Higgs boson, and that was the confirmation of a 50 year old aether theory.
It is crazy to talk of eliminating the aether as if that were some great accomplishment. Explaining the failure to detect aether velocity led to the theory of relativity, but Einstein himself said that it was a mistake to deny the aether. The aether (under various names) is essential to modern physics.