The Office of Public Examiner was created in 1878 (Laws 1878 c83). The examiner was appointed by the governor for a three-year term and was required to be an accountant. He was charged with supervising the books and financial accounts of the state's public, educational, charitable, penal, and reformatory institutions; enforcing a correct and uniform system of bookkeeping by state and county treasurers and auditors; and visiting, without prior notice, the banking, savings, and other moneyed corporations created under the laws of the state and examining their financial condition.
The public examiner was made ex officio superintendent of banks in 1887 (Laws 1887 c183). He was given the additional responsibility to supervise all state banks and to examine and audit each state bank and other financial institutions at frequent intervals. Filing of reports required of banks was transferred from the state auditor's office to the superintendent. The duty of examining building and loan associations was added in 1891 (Laws 1891 c27). The public examiner also monitored bonding of state and county officials. In 1909 the visitation and examination of state banks and other financial institutions was separated from the public examiner's office (Laws 1909 c201). At that time a new Banking Department was created under the direction of a superintendent of banks.
In 1913 a Department of the Public Examiner was created and the powers of the examiner were expanded to include supervision over the accounts of public offices, institutions, properties, industries and improvements of the state, counties, cities, school districts, towns, and villages; over the financial records and transactions of public boards, associations, and societies supported by public funds; and over corporations and companies required to pay state taxes on gross earnings (Laws 1913 c555). The examiner was also given the power to issue subpoenas in matters relating to his official duties.
The department's responsibilities were increased again with the Reorganization Act of 1939 (Laws 1939 c431), when the public examiner's department and the board of audit were combined. The department was required to inquire into and prescribe accounting systems for local units of government, and to audit the accounts of all state agencies, departments, boards, and commissions. Also in 1939, the examiner's term was extended to six years.
In 1973 the powers of the public examiner relating to audits of cities, villages, towns, counties, school districts, and other local governmental units were transferred to the state auditor. Powers relating to the state and its departments, agencies, boards, and commissions were transferred to the legislative auditor (Laws 1973 c492).