Although he was originally designed as a one-dimensional recurring villain who might occasionally enter the Simpsons' lives and wreak some sort of havoc, Burns' popularity has led to his repeated inclusion on the show. He embodies a number of characteristics about Corporate America, as he has an unquenchable desire to increase his own wealth and power. Mr. Burns also embodies the stereotype of a manager: he forgets his employees' names (especially Homer, despite the fact that they seem to interact on a daily basis) and is unconcerned for their safety and well-being. His age provides the writers a character with which to express dated humor and references to popular culture before the 1950s. His aspirations to apply obsolete technology to everyday life or references to Victorian era people or places provide a common source of humor on the show. Kent Brockman also credits Mr. Burns with having stolen Christmas from 1981 to 1985. Recently, he has become less evil and more eccentric.
His trademark expression is the word "Excellent," muttered slowly in a low, sinister voice while tenting his fingertips. He also frequently orders Smithers to "release the hounds," resulting in his vicious guard dogs attacking any intruders or enemies. Another common catchphrase stems from Burns' inability to remember Homer Simpson's name. Upon seeing Homer, Mr. Burns will typically turn to Smithers and ask who that person (Homer) is, and after being informed he will reply "Simpson, eh?".
The Burns family has deep roots in the United States. Mr. Burns' adoptive great-grandfather Franklin Jefferson Burns participated in the Boston Tea Party. Mr. Burns had a strained relationship with his own mother, who had an affair with President Taft and lives in her 120s.
At a young age he left his family to live with a twisted and heartless billionaire (who was actually his grandfather), who owned an "atom mill" in Springfield, where laborers split atoms by hitting anvils with sledgehammers. Burns lived a life of privilege and would amuse himself by injuring hapless immigrant laborers. Mr. Burns later attended Yale University, where he studied science and business, played on the varsity football team, and was inducted into the Skull and Bones secret society. Burns graduated from Yale in 1914.
In 1939, at Burns' 25-year college reunion, he became romantically involved with the daughter of an old flame. She would later bear his child, Larry, who was given up for adoption and would later enter Mr. Burns' life briefly.
Burns served in the United States Army during World War II. A member of Springfield's Flying Hellfish squad battalion, he saw action in the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge, serving under Sergeant Abraham Simpson. During the closing years of the war, when his platoon was clearing out a German-occupied castle, Mr. Burns came across several valuable portraits. Since they couldn't decide to whom said portraits should go, the members of the platoon decided to enter into a tontine, which Mr. Burns was removed from after being dishonorably discharged. He possibly also served in the South Pacific with Abraham Simpson.
At the end of World War II he was personally hired by President Harry S. Truman to transport a specially-printed trillion-dollar bill to Europe as the United States' contribution to the reconstruction of Europe. As the United States' richest citizen, Burns was thought to be the most trustworthy, even though almost everyone hates him for one reason or another. Burns absconded with the bill and kept it in his possession for many years until it was lost to Fidel Castro in the episode The Trouble with Trillions.
Mr. Burns's age has fluctuated during the course of the show, being explicitly stated or revealed he was just over the age of 81 in "Simpson and Delilah", over 100 in "The Mansion Family", 104 in "Who Shot Mr. Burns? Part I", "Homer the Smithers" and "A Hunka Hunka Burns in Love", in one episode after telling Smithers his pin code was his age he clearly types in four digits. He is occasionally referred to as "Springfield's oldest resident". In the episode "Burns, Baby Burns" he recalls his 25th reunion at Yale, setting his graduation in 1914.
At the nuclear plant, Burns spends most of time in his office, monitoring his workers via closed circuit cameras. In his office he keeps a team of ten high-priced lawyers, a scale model of Springfield, a special microbe-resistant chamber, a two-seat escape pod, and the "League of Evil" - a sinister cabal whose members are long deceased but whose skeletons remain. The boobytraps in Burns' office include cricket poison, a secret trapdoor, a catapult that fires 1000 gram weights (2.2 pounds), and a ceiling-mounted suction tube which he can use to transport dissident workers to Morocco (which Dr. Hibbert also seems to have access to). He is also a loan officer at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant Employee's Credit Union.
Burns has also owned or co-owned a number of business ventures in Springfield, including the Monty Burns Casino, "Li'l Lisa" recycling, an ocean slurry manufacturing plant, Burns Slant Drilling Co., Burns Media, the electric company, the water works, and a hotel on Baltic Avenue.
Burns has used his power and wealth to blackmail and bribe various members of Springfield, including Mayor Quimby, as well as safety inspectors. He once attempted to block out the sun to force Springfield residents to increase their use of electricity produced by the Nuclear Plant and was subsequently shot by Maggie; Homer Simpson has claimed to have been the one who shot Burns and framed Maggie for the crime in "Revenge is a Dish Best Served Three Times." The town routinely is subject to Burns' abuse and there is a general dislike of him throughout the town.
Burns resides in a vast, ornate mansion on an immense estate called Burns Manor, located at 1000 Mammon Street, on the corner of Croesus and Mammon streets in the 'Springfield Heights' district. It is protected by a high wall, an electrified fence, and a pack of vicious attack dogs known as "The Hounds," one of whom is named "Winston." In addition he has at least one 30+ -year-old-dog named "Crippler." Crippler is known for bagging hippies -- something they don't find too groovy at all. At times he has employed for protection a force of Wizard of Oz-style guards, a personal paramilitary force, a riot police squad, and a robotic Richard Simmons.
The inside of the mansion includes a room containing a thousand monkeys at a thousand typewriters, a bottomless pit, a human chess board, the largest television in the free world, a 'Hall of Patriots' commemorating his ancestors, a laboratory, a botanical garden of vultures bearing his likeness, a safe containing a Beefeater guard, a model train that takes 3 hours and 47 minutes to complete its circuit and comes back with snow on it, and a theater showing round-the-clock plays regardless of whether there is an audience.
The mansion is also home to many rare historical artifacts including the only existing nude photo of Mark Twain, the suit Charlie Chaplin was buried in, King Arthur's mythical sword Excalibur, and a rare first draft of the Constitution with the word "suckers" in it.
Burns has been engaged at least three times: a woman named Gertrude who died of loneliness and rabies, to Jacqueline Bouvier, and to a policewoman named Gloria. He once had an affair with Countess von Zeppelin.
Mr. Burns is a member of various organizations. In his younger years, while a student at Yale University, he was a member of Skull and Bones. During World War II, Burns became a member of the Flying Hellfish squad, a group of soldiers who entered into a tontine regarding the ownership of German artwork. Burns was member twenty-nine of the Stonecutters until it disbanded, at which time he joined the secret society that succeeded it: the Ancient Mystic Order of No-Homers. (One source of dislike of Burns for the "Stonecutters' is that despite his wealth and greed, he is outranked by Lenny). He is currently the head of the Springfield Republican Party and the Burns Religion. He is also a member of the "Excluders Club", the Springfield Golf and Country Club, and the National Rifle Association. He holds a chair (a demonic throne with snarling dogs chained to it) at Springfield University and controls an anti-democratic paramilitary force in Latin America. In a spoof of Citizen Kane, he once tried to run for Governor - until Marge Simpson forever ruined his chances with a three-eyed fish. At the end he echoes Kane by crying out his name in rage--and vows for the rest of his life to make Homer Simpson's life miserable.
Mr. Burns uses archaic phrases and old time expressions that have either changed meanings or fallen out of common usage in American English, including score (meaning 20), twain (two), post-haste (quickly), petroleum distillate (gasoline), gay (jolly), dean (principal), velocitator and deceleratrix (a car's accelerator and brake), aeromail (post by air or airmail), lollygagger (slacker), fourth form (fourth grade), jumping box and picto-cube (television), Autogyro (helicopter), DictaBelt (dictation machine), the New York Nine (New York Yankees), horseless sleigh (snowmobile, although it could just mean that he was trying to be a mysterious character), crackleberries (peanuts), talkie (movies with sound), thrice (three times), Bolshevism (a faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party) and mater (mother). He also answers the telephone in the same way that the man widely credited for the invention of the Telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, is purported to have answered it ("Ahoy, Hoy?"). In one episode he also rings Smithers and says "Smithers, come here, I want you.", a take on what are reputedly the first words spoken by Alexander Graham Bell on his telephone ("Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you").
He also displays mannerisms which are considered outdated, such as practicing phrenology, writing with a quill pen, driving a Stutz Bearcat while wearing an Edwardian motorist's outfit which includes hat, driving gloves, and goggles, carrying a mace for self defense (though the weapon actually shown was a flail), driving without regard to traffic laws in the manner of early 20th century motorists, and using an antique view camera to take photographs.
In Homer at the Bat, to secure victory in the game, Mr. Burns decides to hire major league stars and assembles a team that includes Honus Wagner, Cap Anson, Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown, and a right fielder who has been dead for 130 years.
When he arrives in Cuba with Homer and Waylon Smithers carrying the stolen trillion dollar note, he greets an ancient taxi by saying "Aha, here's the new Packard we've been hearing so much about".
Burns appears unaware of 20th century political and social developments, such as Fidel Castro replacing Fulgencio Batista as the President of Cuba, Siam changing its name to Thailand, Persia changing its name to Iran and no longer being a monarchy, the Belgian Congo changing its name to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Prussia being absorbed into the German Empire, India gaining its independence from the British Empire, New Mexico entering the United States, the Wall Street Crash of 1929, Idlewild Airport changing its name to JFK Airport, the disbanding of the Negro Leagues, the desegregation of the Major Leagues, Joe DiMaggio no longer being a rookie, Robert Mugabe replacing Ian Smith as Prime Minister (later President) of Zimbabwe and Rhodesia changing its name to Zimbabwe, the extinction of the dodo, the demolition of the Polo Grounds, the ceasing of publication of Collier's Weekly, the abolition of Apartheid in South Africa, the demise of the DuMont Television Network, believing tires need to be revulcanized, confusing The Ramones with The Rolling Stones ("have the Rolling Stones killed"), thinking cars are still operated by levers, believing mail may still be delivered by autogyro (once asking for a package to be delivered by autogyro to the Prussian consolate in Siam), and the occurrence of the 1939 World's Fair.
Mr. Burns' investment portfolio includes long-defunct shares in "Confederated Slaveholdings, Transatlantic Zeppelin, Amalgamated Spats, Congreve's Inflammable Powder, U.S. Hay", and an "up-and-coming Baltimore Opera Hat Company".
He also believes some social institutions and inventions are novel or nonexistent, such as musicals about "the common cat" and "the King of Siam", the Packard automobile, the Fire Department, ice cream (or "iced cream"), vending machines, recycling, strip clubs, the DuMont, the word "into", silent films like the 1929 Lulu, and the synonymity of ketchup and catsup. While trying to chat up a young woman, Burns offers to play the clavichord and show stereopticon images of the Crimean War.
Nonetheless, there are many instances where Burns also displays a clear knowledge of recent events: Citing the films Bugsy and Working Girl as examples when making a movie to gloss over his evil rise to power; being inspired by the movie Sliver to have hidden cameras installed in every home in Springfield; meeting Elvis Presley and regaling Smithers with his impression of the famous singer; using the Ludovico Technique to train attack dogs; enjoying Ziggy comics; playing golf with Richard Nixon, who fretted to Burns about going to prison over the exposure of the Watergate scandal; recalling the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib in a "we-can-do-it-better" context ("this place will make Abu Ghraib look like the Four Seasons"); personally knowing Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, who along with George H. W. Bush tried to attend Burns' birthday party (Carter and Bush were denied admittance for being "one-termers"); and recalling watching the Beatles' breakthrough performance on the Ed Sullivan Show, dismissing it as "off-key caterwauling". He also has a dislike for Elvis Presley and claims Tallulah Brockman Bankhead has more sex appeal with one raised eyebrow than "Modern movies". He also knows about various lesser-known animals which have long since gone extinct, such as the Fenway Flounder (which died off due to the Boston Tea Party) and the Pocket Fox ("a creature which lived for only three weeks in the 16th century"). ″
Physically weak, he often has great difficulty performing the most basic physical tasks, such as giving a thumbs-up, receiving a hug, crushing a paper cup, or stepping on an insect. He is weak enough to be pushed over by an ant or a high-five, or pushed down by a sponge resting on his head. Bunting a baseball sends him flying to the backstop. The weight of toothpaste on his toothbrush is enough to pull him over (as seen in the opening scene of the Simpsons Movie). He has a hunched back and his vertebral column is visible when he is viewed from the side. His exposure to radiation has given his skin a green glow (though seen in The Springfield Files) and left him infertile. Once a $1000 bill bruised him leaving a reverse imprint of Grover Cleveland on his chest.
Burn's organs have grown immensely weak over the years. His heart is black, desiccated, and barely beats or does not beat at all. At one point, he is struck with lightning, restarting his apparently not beating heart. It is shrunken to the size of a cherry. Burns' blood type is double-O negative. When his finger is pricked, he bleeds dust, and when his arm is poked with a needle, the needle passes through his arm. On one occasion, a chunk of Burns' brain fell out through his ear. Another time, his lungs came out through his mouth in a manner resembling an airbag. On another occasion, he indicated in an off-hand manner that he only has a single lung. If he is not careful, fluid can build up in his hands, causing them to swell to enormous proportions, and his fingers have been shown to flap in the breeze released from a bowling ball dispenser. It has been revealed that if Burns sweats even one drop, he could die of dehydration unless he takes a bath immediately. Burns has also lost body parts due to leprosy (one example is when he lost an entire fingernail in a cup). Both his legs have a crease in them, down the entire length. On one occasion, Burns even dies after drowning during a prolonged session in his bathtub. To cover up the incident, Smithers and Homer make Burns into a marionette to fool an investors meeting, and the movement of the marionette inadvertenly restarts Burn's heart, reviving him.
Mr. Burns' medical treatment includes a weekly procedure which includes chiropractics, a vocal cord scraping, and an injection of pain-killers; the purpose of these treatments is to postpone his death for one week. This makes his pupils dilate to a large size, and renders him temporarily delirious, so much so that he behaves in a friendly and gentle manner, quite in contrast to his usual cantankerous demeanour. He also glows green, a result of working in a nuclear plant for many years. This causes Homer to mistake Mr. Burns for an alien in one episode, though no one believes him, thinking him to have been drunk (he drank about ten bottles of a new type of beer, 'Red Tick Beer' made out of dog fleas). At the end of the episode, Lisa tries to prove that Burns is not an alien, pointing a flashlight at him. This reveals him in his 'nice' form leading the townspeople to believe that he is a monster, but before they can kill him, Smithers rushes in and explains that it is really Mr. Burns (though they still want to kill him). He also has his brain flushed out with vinegar and his eyes "re-balled". Burns' knees are also sent out to be repaired at a "shop." His dentures replace themselves. In the future, Burns may be kept alive by cryonics.
On rare occasions he has displayed great strength and skill, such as when he managed to capture Nessie (though it was never explained how he did so) and when he rescued his girlfriend Gloria from a burning building (although she wound up carrying him out of the blaze).
In "$pringfield (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Legalized Gambling)", Burns develops verminophobia, a profound fear of microscopic germs.
His first name came from the Montgomery Park sign atop a former Montgomery Ward high-rise department store in Portland, Oregon's Northwest Industrial district. His surname of "Burns" comes from Burnside Street, a main throughfare in downtown Portland.
Forbes estimates his net worth at $16.8 billion placing 6th on the 2007 Forbes Fictional 15 list. Burns has been on the list since 1989. Burns has previous placed fifth on the list and placed second in 2006.