Boys’ Life: Battery Operated

Good morning everyone! This morning’s look at an ad from an early 1960s Boys’ Life is for the Burgess Battery Company, purveyors of fine dry cell batteries and flashlights to use those batteries in. I had never heard of Burgess Batteries, and while I can confirm the existence of such a company, as well as some limited history on the man behind it, hard information on history of the company seems to be seriously lacking. The company seems to have experienced a revival of sorts in the 2007-2010 timeframe, that quickly came and went, and the website for that company was the primary historical source for much of the information on the web. Even utilizing the very helpful Wayback Machine only aids in discerning the first few years of company operation (I also found a blog post from the new owner of Burgess, but it links to the same dead website). Take a look past the jump to learn what can be learned about Burgess, and if you have some secret info be sure to share!

‘Charles Frederick Burgess (June 5, 1873 Oshkosh, Wisconsin – February 13, 1945 Chicago, Illinois) was an American chemist and engineer. He was founder of the University of Wisconsin-Madison department of Chemical Engineering in 1905, and was a pioneer in the development of electrochemical engineering. In 1917 he founded the Burgess Battery Company.

He became an engineering consultant and later a board member of the French Battery Company in Madison, Wisconsin, which produced dry cells to his design used by the US Army in World War I. In 1913 he resigned from the University. His relationship with the French Battery Company deteriorated, and so in 1917 he founded the Burgess Battery Company, which became an important manufacturer of dry cell batteries for flashlights, radio, and other applications. The Burgess Battery Company eventually became part of Mallory Battery, now known as Duracell.’ (Wikipedia)

The French Battery Company is still around today, but you may know it more commonly as Rayovac, the name it switched to in the early 1930s ( When Burgess began work with French Battery in 1907, he rated their current batteries as the worst on the market. By 1910 the company had turned profitable, behind Burgess’s battery developments. The company experienced two separate fires (1910 and 1915) that each nearly destroyed the factory, and after the second fire Burgess departed (in 1916) to found the company that carried his name, allowing French to continue producing the products he had developed under license. (

Burgess also published an Index of Radio Broadcasting Stations, that included ads for their various batteries and flashlights, as well as some instructions for proper wiring up of battery sets in series or parallel depending on desired output. The primary content of the index was a listing of all American and Canadian radio stations at the time of publication (the linked index is from 1927, a year or two before this Boys’ Life ad).

These batteries even made an appearance in Back to the Future III, when the 1955 Doc used them to power the 1985 walkie talkies to be taken back to 1885.

‘Make Light of the Night’ ad images are taken by me, delivery truck image is from, robot ad is from, Back to the Future image from, battery collection image is from, flashlight image is from, the No. 2 cell image is from, and the ‘Blade of Light’ ad is also from

  • The Professor

    In amongst my old 35mm camera equipment, I have two rather old flash units that use large dry cell batteries, and I used to buy Burgess cells for them back when I used them. Big, heavy bastards, but if you needed to do a lot of flash work and had to have fast flash cycle times, they were your boys. Or girls. I don't remember the voltage, but the batteries were rectangular and were about 4"x6"x1" in dimension. A newspaper photographer friend gave them to me back in the '70s, and they were old then.

  • Stu_Rock

    I used to drive past the old French Battery Company building in Madison every day. Rayovac abandoned it for a west side location decades ago. The old building was recently torn down.