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


Roosevelt's occupation was listed as President of the U.S.A. According to the census sheet, he lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with his wife, personal secretary, cousin, governess and four servants. At the time of the 1940 Census, Ronald Reagan was pursuing his burgeoning acting career and was just married to his first wife, Jane Wyman, a co-star from the movie "Brother Rat." The year he married Wyman, Reagan was living in an apartment in the hills of Hollywood.

In the spring of 1939, the couple moved to a different apartment in Los Angeles proper, according to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

The detailed census data indicates that Reagan and his wife lived alone at 1326B Londonderry View Drive in Los Angeles. They both reported incomes of greater than $5,000 a year.

One of the men living two-doors down from Reagan was Sydney Rusinow, a famous bridge player who married actress Viola Richard. There is a technique named after him called the "Rusinow lead". He died in a house fire, according to that bio of Viola's linked above.

The data also reveals fascinating glimpse into other Hollywood figures. Actress Myrna Loy lived with her first of four husbands, producer Arthur Hornblow, Jr. Loy, best known for her role as Nora Charles in the Thin Man movies, was one of the few actresses to successfully make the transition from silent pictures to the "talkies." She and her husband also lived with two servants, who were each paid $960 a year. Loy and her husband reported yearly earnings of more than $5,000 each and lived in a $200,000 home.

Famed costume designer Edith Head also lived with two servants, but they were paid appreciably less than Loy's household help. One earned $400 dollars, the other $720. Head also brought in more than $5000 a year.

And actor Victor Mature was living as a lodger in a home in Pasadena, possibly as his first, brief marriage was being annulled. Mature reported earnings of over $4,000 dollars that year.

Just as today, those Hollywood stars earned far more than the average American. In 1940, the median wage for men was $956 dollars, and for women $592. In the 2010 Census, the median salary was just over $33,000 for men and $24,000 for women.

The 1940 Census was conducted during an era of massive social change, just as the U.S. was emerging from the Great Depression, and on the verge of entering World War II. The population stood at 132 million, compared to 309 million in the 2010 Census. At that time, more than 70 years ago, the occupations listed on the census form included laborer, rivet heater, frame spinner and salesman.

It was a much more rural and agrarian society. Five million Americans counted themselves as farmers, compared to just 613,000 who listed farming as their occupation in 2010. And education levels were substantially lower. In 1940, only percent of the population had college degrees; that number was 28 percent in 2010.

Those are just some of the broad strokes of the 1940 U.S. Census findings, all of which had been published before. But what's now available on the new website are the hand-written ledgers painstakingly filled out by an army of over 100,000 census takers who fanned out across the country to record that moment in America.

The information is also being added to the largest for-profit genealogy site, www.Ancestry.com. The site, says it has seen a 175% increase in traffic today. Ancestry.com hopes to have all 3.8 million images from the 1940 census online before the end of the year, and it is also including other data from the 1940's – such as births and marriage records, to help searchers locate family members. Access to the census information on the site will be free through the end of 2013.

Meantime, the National Archives says it's website continues to ramp up to try to handle the overflow traffic.

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