Fraunhofer was born in Straubing, Bavaria, 6 March 1787. While working for a Munich company making scientific instruments, he learned mathematics and became very skilled in applied optics.

In the period 1812 - 1814 Fraunhofer worked on designing achromatic lenses for telescopes. While studying refraction, he noticed multiple dark lines in the spectrum. These lines were first recorded by William Hyde Wollaston in 1802. With his instruments, Fraunhofer accurately measured the position of 324 of these lines (as opposed to the seven Wollaston found). He labelled the most prominent lines with letters, a nomenclature that is still used. These lines are now called Fraunhofer lines.

In 1823 Fraunhofer was appointed director of the Physics Museum in Munich, and received the honorary title of Professor. He died of tuberculosis in Munich on 7 June 1826.

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