The establishment of the Minnesota War Records Commission was authorized by the Minnesota Commissioner of Public Safety in August, 1918, its mission to collect and preserve all available material relating to Minnesota's part in the World War and to the course of life in Minnesota during the war period. It was initially composed of twelve members appointed by the governor in October, and was given an appropriation by the Public Safety Commission. In April, 1919 (Laws 1919 c284), the legislature formally established the War Records Commission with a reduced membership of nine and a commitment to publish as well as collect. The commission met infrequently, and the actual work of the commission was carried on by or under the direction of Franklin Holbrook (as secretary and director), on loan from the Minnesota Historical Society which also provided its office space and general support.
The commission concentrated first on collecting material emanating from the headquarters of statewide agencies and compiling a roster of Minnesota servicemen. A system of county and local war records organizations helped collect information for the rosters, and collected records relating to local war activities. The state commission provided direction and assistance through a series of bulletins, circulars, and newsletters. The secretary (Holbrook) was also associated with the work of the Ramsey County War Records Commission, for whom he edited St. Paul and Ramsey County in the War of 1917-1918 (St. Paul: Ramsey County Records Commission, 1929).
The Commission originally planned an eight-volume publication series under the title Minnesota in the World War, which was to include histories of Minnesota military units and government and civilian war service agencies, a roster of Minnesotans in military service, and a narrative summary. Instead, however, the commission was charged by the legislature (Laws 1921 c496) with first completing a roster and history of Minnesota in the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection (St. Paul: Minnesota War Records Commission, 1923). At about the same time, the commission produced the History of the 151st Field Artillery, Rainbow Division by Louis L. Collins, edited by Wayne E. Stevens (St. Paul: Minnesota War Records Commission, 1924). It was then considered volume 1 of Minnesota in the World War.
However, in 1925 the legislature discontinued the commission, turned its collections over to the Minnesota Historical Society (where they were located anyway), and gave the society a special appropriation to complete a two-volume narrative history without a roster (Laws 1925 c426; c423 s11). The new War Records Division of the society, still under the direction of Holbrook, produced the first volume of Minnesota in the War with Germany (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1928), dealing with Minnesota's military participation. The special appropriation expired in 1929 and the division was discontinued (as was Holbrook's official connection), but the second volume, dealing with civilian war-related activities, was completed by the regular editorial staff of the society and published by the society in 1932.