After graduating from the University of Wisconsin (B.E. 1895; E.E. 1898), he entered its faculty as instructor and assistant professor of electrical engineering in 1895. Of an inventive turn of mind, he developed several new processes in electrolysis, and in 1904 was made investigator of electrolytic iron alloys for the Carnegie Institute. He was president and one of the founders of Northern Chemical Engineering Laboratories, which was later renamed to C. F. Burgess Laboratories. In 1910, he wrote “The Strength of the Alloys of Nickel and Copper with Electrolytic Iron.”
He became an engineering consultant and later a board member of the French Battery Company in Madison, Wisconsin, which produced dry cels 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.
Dissatisfied with taxes in Wisconsin, beginning in 1926 he moved himself and his enterprises out of the state. He went to Florida and Burgess Battery Company went to Freeport, Illinois. Burgess Laboratories was reincorporated under Delaware laws.