Buying the Dark Lines of the Solar Spectrum: Joseph Von Fraunhofer’s Standard for the Manufacture of Optical Glass

  • Myles W. Jackson
Part of the Archimedes book series (ARIM, volume 1)


Joseph von Fraunhofer is of interest to physicists and historians of science because of his ‘discovery’ of the dark lines dissecting the solar spectrum, which now bear his name, and his advances in the manufacture of optical lenses. Previously, scholars discussing Fraunhofer’s merits have erroneously placed him at the forefront of a long tradition of spectroscopy,1 or have portrayed him as the ‘father of German optics’ in attempting to argue for a Germanic hegemony in both the physical sciences and optical industry.2


Solar Spectrum Dark Line Optical Glass Chromatic Aberration Royal Greenwich Observatory 
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    See, for example: M.A. Sutton, “Spectroscopy and the Chemists: A Neglected Opportunity”, Ambix xxiii (1976), 16–26;Google Scholar
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    W. McGucken, Nineteenth-Century Spectroscopy: Development of the Understanding of Spectra 1802–1897 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1969), see particularly, 4–10. Frank James has correctly argued that such histories incorrectly describe the emergence of spectroscopy as a singular, continuous process of elaboration stretching back to Fraunhofer and extending forward from him to Gustav Kirchhoff and Robert Bunsen’s establishment of the relationship between absorption and emission lines.Google Scholar
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    See J.W.F. Herschel, “On the absorption of light by coloured media, viewed in connexion with the undulatory theory” in Report of the British Association (1833), 373–4. The full paper appeared in The Philosophical Magazine iii (1833), 401–12.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Myles W. Jackson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of History, the Fishbein Center for the History of Science and Medicine, the Committee of the Conceptual Foundations of ScienceThe University of ChicagoUSA

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