Olger B. Burtness was born on a farm near Mekinock, North Dakota, on March 14, 1884. He was the son of Ole O. and Mary (Anderson) Burtness. He attended public schools in Grand Forks County, and graduated from the Prepatory Department at University of North Dakota .
He next enrolled in the College of Liberal Arts at UND. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree on June 14, 1906, and added a Bachelor of Law degree in June of the following year. While a student at UND, Burtness was president of the A.D.T. literary and debating society. He represented the University in several intercollegiate debates, and was also active in The "Mimer" Society, a Scandinavian literary society. He was also a member of the University football team, the Varsity Bachelor Club, and was Editor in Chief of the Dacotah annual.
He formed a law partnership in Grand Forks with Bardi G. Skulason in 1907. He married Zoe Ensign on September 8, 1909, in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. In 1911, he first ran for public office, and was elected the States Attorney for Grand Forks County. He served in this capacity until 1916. In 1918 he campaigned for a seat in the North Dakota House of Representatives, running as a Republican. He won the election, and served from 1919-1920.
Burtness entered politics on a national scale when he won a seat in the United States House of Representatives on November 2, 1920. He was re-elected six times, and served from 1921-1933.
In 1930 he was honored by the King of Denmark with an Order of the Falcon with a star. He also represented the President of the United States at the 100th anniversary of the Icelandic Parliament.
Following his career in Congress, Burtness returned to Grand Forks to practice law. He was appointed judge of the First Judicial District, North Dakota District Court, by Governor Fred G. Aandahl in 1950. He was re-elected twice, in 1952 and 1958. He was a member of the North Dakota Bar Association and the American Bar Association. He was also a member of the Order of the Coif, an honorary law fraternity. On the local scene, he was the director of the Red River National Bank, and was a member of the Chamber of Commerce, the Sons of Norway, and the Masons. Burtness was one of the founders of the UND Alumni Association, and helped organize the UND Development Fund in 1946. He sat on the Alumni Association Board of Directors for over thirty five years.
Olger Burtness died on January 20, 1960, in Grand Forks. He was buried in Memorial Park Cemetery on January 23, 1960. Following his death, Zoe Burtness donated $100,000 to the University to construct an assembly hall for plays, lectures, and concerts, in honor of her husband. The Burtness Theater was dedicated on April 28, 1963.