Ronald Ross and George Macdonald are credited with developing a mathematical model of mosquito-borne pathogen transmission. A systematic historical review suggests that several mathematicians and scientists contributed to development of the Ross-Macdonald model over a period of 70 years. Ross developed two different mathematical models, Macdonald a third, and various "Ross-Macdonald" mathematical models exist. Ross-Macdonald models are best defined by a consensus set of assumptions. The mathematical model is just one part of a theory for the dynamics and control of mosquito-transmitted pathogens that also includes epidemiological and entomological concepts and metrics for measuring transmission. All the basic elements of the theory had fallen into place by the end of the Global Malaria Eradication Programme (GMEP, 1955-1969) with the concept of vectorial capacity, methods for measuring key components of transmission by mosquitoes, and a quantitative theory of vector control. The Ross-Macdonald theory has since played a central role in development of research on mosquito-borne pathogen transmission and the development of strategies for mosquito-borne disease prevention.