The records of the Michigan department of the American Legion date from the early days of the department in 1919 up to the late 1990s, and document the internal functions of the organization as well as various projects and community service programs undertaken by the department. The record group contains the following series: Executive Committee Files, Proceedings and Annual Reports, Publications, Assorted Meeting Minutes, Michigan Department Annual Reports, Cancelled Post Files, Other Records, Otter Lake Children's Billet, Scrapbooks and Photograph Albums, and Sound Recording. Portions of the records are available on microfilm only.
The origins of the American Legion can be traced to the late stages of World War 1, as American servicemen began to contemplate the formation of "an organization of veterans, dedicated in peace to the same ideals that inspired their services in war." Central to this effort was the comradeship characteristic of the soldiers that comprised the American Expeditionary Force. Wanting to preserve friendships that had been forged both in training camps and on the fields of battle, 500 delegates, representing various units of the A.E.F., were gathered in Paris in March 1919 to sow the seeds of the proposed veterans organization. This gathering, known as the Paris Caucus, arrived at the name "The American Legion" for the new organization, and set forth plans for a second caucus, at which further details of the organization would be ironed out. This second caucus was held in St. Louis in May of 1919, and involved nearly 1000 delegates from across the United States. It was at this event that the constitution and by-laws of the organization were adopted, the preamble drafted, and the location of the first annual convention determined.
The history of the Michigan department of the American Legion can be traced to April 1919, shortly after the Paris Caucus. At a meeting in New York, Colonel Fred M. Alger was appointed Chairman of the Michigan Temporary Committee. Later in that same year, forty-six Michigan delegates were selected for the St. Louis Caucus, and while in St. Louis, the Michigan Department held its first meeting in the Hotel Statler. At this point, George C. Waldo was named Temporary Chairman, Benjamin B. Bellows Temporary Vice Commander, and Lyle B. Tabor Temporary Adjutant.
The Michigan Department expanded rapidly, and by July of that year, 45 posts, representing 2,088 members, had been granted charters with seven more in progress. The first State Convention was held in Grand Rapids in October 1920, with Colonel A.H. Gansser named State Commander and Lyle Tabor State Adjutant. By this time, Michigan had 192 Posts covering every county in the state. Over time, the membership requirements were altered to include any American war-time veterans, not just World War 1. As a result, the organization continued to grow with new veterans and thrive through the 20th century. It is interesting to note that with this expansive membership, neutrality in regard to partisan politics has long been the stance of the Michigan Department. While the Department enjoys a positive working relationship with the Michigan State government, its key focuses remain veteran's issues rather than political parties.
In addition to representing the interests of veterans, the Michigan Department of the American Legion takes part in a number of projects that are generally of benefit to its members and the surrounding community. The Department operated a hospital and planned living community in Battle Creek, respectively named the American Legion Hospital and Legion Villa. Various scholarships for "deserving students" are offered by the Department, namely, the Brewer Trust and the William Morris Scholarship. Additionally, the Department is involved in youth programs such as Boys State, a summer program where high school students simulate a state government, the American Legion Junior Baseball League, and, until the late 1970s a home for the children of veterans located in Otter Lake, Michigan.