1940 Census: Ronald Reagan's $135 Rent, Insights Into Other Famous and Ordinary Americans

PHOTO: Page from 1940 census with Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman listed

In 1940, Ronald Reagan and his wife paid $135 in rent, he worked 30 hours the last week in March, and the couple lived next door to two men on one side and a champion bridge player lived two doors away.

That bridge player later married a woman from another building, an actress who appeared in Laurel and Hardy pictures.

Whether World War II-era celebrity history, or family history is of interest, the newly unveiled 1940 census archive promises to be a fun historical adventure-- when the site is not crashed.

The site, a treasure trove of information – with 3.8 million pages of detailed family and individual data from the 1940 census, was released today for the first time. There's just one problem: That long-buried treasure is now proving difficult -- if not impossible -- to open.

Interest has been so high, the National Archives' website has essentially crashed.

"We are having a server problem," said Susan Cooper, director of public and media communications at the National Archives. "Because there is such a huge volume, they're having a hard time keeping up."

Cooper told ABC News that the website had 22.5 million hits in the first three hours of operation, far more than anticipated. By mid-afternoon, that jumped to 37 million hits.

"We knew we would have high traffic volume, and we thought we were prepared for it," she said, 'but I think we've been very surprised by actually how popular it is."

The general outlines of the 1940 U.S. Census have been publically released before, but actual data from each household is kept private for 72 years.

The release offers a snapshot of the lives of millions of Americans, from the famous to the everyman.

The 1940 census data, for example, indicates that Reagan worked fewer hours the last week in March than did his then wife, the actress Jane Wyman. She worked 45 hours that week, compared to his 30. It also reveals how much some of Hollywood's biggest stars were paying their live-in help.

When the National Archives released the detailed data from the 1920 and 1930 census reports, it was on microfilm. Accessing it meant making a trip to the library and fishing through the films. This is the first time the data has been released online. "Now, theoretically, you can now stay at home and search from your own computer," said Cooper, "so it makes it much more accessible; and therefore more popular."

Cooper says they're working to add more capacity, to allow the millions looking for family pay-dirt to get onto the site.

Even if you do manage to click through the search feature, if you're looking for a particular person, in a way, you have to have already found them. The special archives website, created for the release of the 1940's census, requests specific address or zip code information in order to narrow down your search to the specific enumeration district where your person of interest lived.

Enumeration districts were the several city blocks assigned to the enumerators – the government workers dispatched to go knocking on door after door to conduct the surveys for that year's census. As of yet, the system does not allow users to search solely by an individual's name. The National Archives is working with volunteers to try to index the data base by name, but that will likely take another six to nine months.

The archivists, who prepared millions of pages documenting the America of the 1940 for online release, pulled information on some particularly notable figures included in this census -- President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and then-actor, future President Ronald Reagan.

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