History of the "Burgess Battery" Company


Charles Burgess
Dr. C.F. Burgess

The Early Years:

Charles F. Burgess worked as a professor, chemical engineer, and inventor.

He was born in Oshkosh, WI on January 5th, 1873 .

Burgess was initiated into the University of Wisconsin in Madison in 1891 and graduated from the University 1895. He then taught chemical engineering at the University  from 1895-1913. In 1905 he became full professor of Applied Electrochemistry and formed the Chemical Engineering department. 

Dr. Burgess' involvement with batteries goes back to October 1907 when he was hired as a consultant at the French Battery Company (predecessor of Rayovac). He was put in charge of improving their No. 6 cell batteries.

At this time, the Number 6 cell,(so named for its 6 inch heighth ), was the primary battery available for public use in telephones, telegraphs, toys, doorbells and other electrical devices.

Within six months of Dr. Burgess' involvement, the French Battery Company products went from very unreliable to, in Burgess' words, "...the best batteries in the country."

In 1908 Dr. Burgess started work, independently, on two new battery sizes for portable lighting; the Number 1 size (standardized as the "C" cell) and the Number 2 size (the future "D" cell). He formed the zinc cans over the end of a broom handle (#1 cell ) and over the end a shovel handle (#2 cell ).

Also in 1908, as a result of Dr. Burgess' work, the American Electrochemical Society established a set of standards for testing of batteries. 

Dr Burgess formed Northern Chemical Engineering Labs as a supplement to his work at the University . The labs started operations in June 1910 at 625 Williamson Street in Madison, Wi and officially  incorporated in December of 1910 .

On September 16, 1910, Burgess sold his first flashlights and batteries to the Madison Gas and Electric Company under the trade name "Northern Lights."

Due to increased demands of the Labs, Dr. Burgess resigned from University of Wisconsin July 1, 1913  to devote more time to his new enterprise. 

The "Labs" were involved in many electrochemical enterprises. One of the first of the "Labs" projects outside of the battery business was the patenting, manufacturing, and sales of "silver cleaning pans" used to electrochemically remove tarnish from silverware at hotels and restaurants. 

On March 2, 1915, Dr. Burgess simplified the Northern Chemical Engineering Laboratories name to simply "C. F. Burgess Laboratories" which became the parent firm for various enterprises including the Burgess Battery Company.

A fire on December 1, 1915 forced C. F. Burgess Laboratories to build a new facility in the fall of 1916 at 1015 East Washington Street in Madison.

Due to increasingly strained relations, Burgess severed all relations with the French Battery Company on February 20, 1916.

Dr Burgess formed the Burgess Battery Company as the manufacturing and sales arm of the Burgess Laboratories . The new company became incorporated in Madison, WI on March 1, 1917.

During WWI,  Burgess worked with the fledgling United States Signal Corps to develop quality batteries for Air to Ground radio communication  and Ground to Ground radio communication to be used by the Allied troops in France . During this time, the Radio "A" Battery and Radio "B" Battery types were developed.

The time after WWI and on into the roaring 20's  was a boom time for Burgess and the Radio/Battery industry in general.

In 1925, high Wisconsin corporate taxes sent Burgess looking for a new, out of state, location for the manufacturing plant. Several Freeport, IL business leaders encouraged Burgess to move to their growing city. 

On December 15, 1925 Burgess purchased a large manufacturing plant from the Moline Plow Company, (Once the manufacturing home of the Stephens automobile ), on Freeports ,   "Manufacturer's Island."


Burgess began production at this plant on July 1,1926 with 125 employees . Eventually Burgess Enterprises grew to be among the largest of their kind in the nation. 



Burgess Battery  had its own airplane for a time. Company officials had been convinced by interested Freeport area individuals that it would be good advertising for the company’s products. Consequently the company paid for the refurbishing and painting of a States monoplane in the now familiar Burgess Battery Black and White Stripes with Red Shield scheme. The men are (from left) Wes Brubaker, Jimmie Dillon and L.C. Wallace. © Freeport Journal Standard

The year 1931 saw the depression hit Burgess Battery. The company at one point was losing $1,000/day.  To help curb these losses, Burgess Battery moved the last remaining operations from Madison, WI into the Freeport, IL facility .