Burkburnett is close to the Red River at the intersection of Interstate Highway 44 and State Highway 240, ten miles north of Wichita Falls in north central Wichita County. The first settler in the area was North Texas pioneer Mabel Gilbert, who settled there in 1856. Just to the west in 1879 J. G. Hardin and J. P. Hawkins founded a small community, commonly known as Nesterville to cowboys from Samuel Burk Burnett's nearby Four Sixes Ranch. By June 1880 the town had a small store and a reported population of 132. In 1882 the local post office was named Gilbert after Mabel Gilbert; it operated until 1903.
In 1906 Burnett sold 16,997 acres of his ranch holdings in northern Wichita County to a group of investors led by Joseph A. Kemp and Frank Kell, who planned to extend the Wichita Falls and Northwestern Railway northward from Wichita Falls to connect with other rail lines to the wheat-producing areas of Oklahoma and Kansas. In this way they hoped to increase the production of flour mills in Wichita Falls. A townsite was laid out along the railroad on the former Burnett lands, a mile north of Gilbert. The Red River Land Company, formed for the occasion, auctioned lots in the townsite on June 6, 1907.
A post office named Burkburnett opened in 1907. Apparently President Theodore Roosevelt helped secure permission from the post office authorities to combine Burnett's two names. The town was linked to Wichita Falls and points south and to various towns in Oklahoma and points north by rail. Gilbert moved to the railroad townsite, and its one-room school building became Burkburnett's first school. A depot opened in 1907, and by 1915 the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad, which purchased the Wichita Falls and Northwestern, ran nineteen trains daily to Burkburnett. By 1912 Burkburnett had a bank, a hotel, cotton gins, and a newspaper. By 1913, when the community incorporated, its population had reached 1,000. A municipal water system was constructed in 1918.
In 1912 oil was discovered west of town; larger strikes were made in 1918 and 1925. These strikes drew thousands of people to the area. By late 1918 wells in the Burkburnett oilfieldqv were producing 7,500 barrels per day, 20,000 persons had poured into the oilfield region, and twenty trains ran daily between Burkburnett and Wichita Falls. In addition, nineteen refineries processed the locally produced oil. The town's unpaved streets reportedly became lined with newly formed stock offices, brokerage houses, and automobiles stuck in the mud. An article published in Cosmopolitan magazine, "A Lady Comes to Burkburnett," captured the spirit of the times and later inspired the 1940 film Boom Town, starring Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable. By the mid-1920s Burkburnett's population reached 5,300.
The oil boom died out by the late 1920s and, no doubt affected by the Great Depression and World War II, Burkburnett's population declined significantly during the 1930s and 1940s. By 1936 the town had 3,281 persons and 160 businesses; in 1946 it had 2,814 people and eighty-four businesses. In 1941 Sheppard Air Force Base was established nearby. The town's population increased to 4,555 by the mid-1950s, when 115 businesses served the community. The population almost doubled between 1957 and 1967, from 4,555 to 8,750. In 1989 Burkburnett had a population of 11,025 and 125 businesses, including factories producing chemical products, plastics, and machinery. In 1990 the population was 10,145. The population grew to 10,927 in 2000.