This example may not be that of a whole field but I think it illustrates an important result that lay dormant for a very long time. A natural question in the theory of graphs is when is a graph the vertex-edge graph of a 3-dimensional convex polyhedron? It turns out that this question was in essence answered by Ernst Steinitz in 1922. However, Steinitz did not use a graph theory framework for his work. As a consequence, almost no one noticed what he had accomplished. Almost no references to Steinitz's work was made until 1962 and 1963 when Branko Grünbaum and Theodore Motzkin wrote two papers where they mentioned what Steinitz had done but reformulated it using graph theory terminology. The result in these terms, now known as Steinitz's Theorem states that a graph is the vertex-edge graph of a convex 3-dimensional polyhedron if and only if the graph is planar and 3-connected. A good place to read about this is in Grünbaum's book: Convex Polytopes (2nd edition). Grünbaum (and others) went on to produce many papers that exploited Steinitz's Theorem in many directions. One way to think of what was accomplished here was that to study the combinatorial properties of 3-dimensional convex polyhedra one does not have to think in 3-dimensions but only in 2 dimensions.