“In 1905, came a fundamental and (as the fu-I think that it is correct that Einstein's 1905 paper was considered no big deal, and that relativity did not start to take off until 1908. By 1911 relativity was huge, and textbooks were starting to appear.
ture historian will probably say) an epoch-
making contribution in the shape of an unas-
suming and dry-looking dissertation, ‘Con-
cerning the Electro-dynamics of Moving
Bodies,’ by A. Einstein, a Swiss professor of
physics. It appeared in the Annalen der
Physik, the German counterpart of our Philo-
sophical Magazine. It created no sensation at
the time. It was hardly noticed. Yet, at the pres-
ent time, you cannot open a journal devoted
to physics without finding some fresh contri-
bution to the ever-increasing literature on the
subject: Einstein’s Principle of Relativity.
—E. E. Fournier D’Albe”
Scientific American Supplement, November 11, 1911
So why did relativity become so popular in 1908-1911, but not 1905-1908? The obvious explanations are (1) Einstein's paper was not appreciated at first, but it was after 3 years, and (2) Einstein's paper was inconsequential, and Minkowski's 1908 paper made relativity popular.
I say that explanation (2) is better. Minkowski's paper was bold, geometric, and rigorous. It was reprinted and distributed widely. The 1911 works were based on Minkowski's theory, not Einstein's. I do not see any proof that Einstein's paper had much influence on the early development of relativity at all. It seems to have influenced Max Planck, but hardly anyone else. Minkowski learned relativity from David Hilbert, Lorentz, and Poincare, not Einstein.
Hermann Minkowski declared in 1908:
The views of space and time which I wish to lay before you have sprung from the soil of experimental physics, and therein lies their strength. They are radical. Henceforth space by itself, and time by itself, are doomed to fade away into mere shadows, and only a kind of union of the two will preserve an independent reality.Minkowski died in 1909, but his 1908 paper was the most widely read relativity paper at the time. Nearly all subsequent relativity work was based on Minkowski's formulation, not Einstein's.
It is odd that Einstein's 1905 paper would be credited as being so influential. I cannot find much actual influence at the time. Everyone considered an embellishment of Lorentz's theory, and some called it the Lorentz-Einstein theory. Apparently it persuaded Planck, but not Minkowski or everyone else. It appears that many people, including this SciAm writer, decided years later than the paper must have been influential. But it was not.