Entries in National Archives (3)


Massive Demand for 1940 US Census Data Crashes Website

National Archives Website(WASHINGTON) -- It promises to be a treasure trove of information -- detailed family data from the 1940 census, released Monday 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.

"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.

Monday's release offers a snapshot of the lives of the famous, as well as the ordinary. The 1940 census data, for example, indicates that then-actor Ronald Reagan was paying $135 a month for the Los Angeles apartment he shared with his wife, actress Jane Wyman. 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, 3.8 million digital images, 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 paydirt to get onto the site.

Currently, even if you do manage to click through the search feature, if you are looking for a particular person, you need to already know how to locate them. The special archives website requires a specific address or zip code in order to narrow down a search to the specific enumeration district where the person 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.

The National Archives is working with volunteers to try to index the data base by name, so that only a name would be necessary to start a search. But that feature will likely take another six to nine months before it becomes available.

The archivists, who prepared millions of pages documenting the America of 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.

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, and lived in a $200,000 home.

Living two doors away from Reagan was Sydney Rusinow, a famous bridge player who married actress Viola Richard, a Laurel and Hardy co-star. There is a technique named after the bridge player, the "Rusinow lead."

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.

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 $5,000 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 a 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.

Here's hoping the National Archives can soon manage the demand.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Ex-Archives Worker Sold Recordings on eBay

Photodisc/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A man entrusted for four decades with guarding the nation’s most treasured historical records might spend the next 10 years in prison after stealing hundreds of recordings and selling them online.

Leslie Charles Waffen, formerly one of the top officials at the National Archives, pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges he put stolen sound recordings up for sale on eBay.

“This case is especially egregious because the defendant was a high-ranking government employee who violated his obligation to protect historical records,” U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a prepared statement announcing the plea deal. “These items were entrusted to the National Archives to be used by all citizens, not to be auctioned for personal profit to the highest bidder.”

Investigators say they uncovered Waffen’s “eight-year scheme” in September when he sold a 1937 tape of New York Yankees legend Babe Ruth.

Waffen, 66, sold the recording on eBay for $34.74 under the username “hi-fi_gal.” Federal agents, tipped off to the sale, obtained the tape and traced it back to his work at the National Archives in College Park, Md. They watched and waited and in the next few weeks agents noticed “hi-fi_gal” selling other Archives properties on eBay.

Agents raided Waffen’s home Oct. 26, 2010 in Rockville, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C. Archives investigators and U.S. Marshals loaded a moving truck with boxes holding 6,153 recordings seized from Waffen’s basement.

As part of the plea deal, Waffen has agreed to forfeit at least 955 of the recordings and will reimburse the federal government for the “full amount of the loss.”

The Archives has hired appraisers to calculate the value of what’s been sold.

Inspector General Paul Brachfeld of the National Archives and Records Administration declined to say what else Waffen stole until after his sentencing March 5. But he hopes the former archivist receives “the strongest sentence possible,” 10 years in prison.

“We want to put people on notice,” Brachfeld told ABC News. “If they steal from our collection, we are going to put them in prison.”

Until last summer, Waffen had spent five years as chief of the Motion Picture, Sounds and Video Recording Branch at the National Archives.  As noted in this New York Times article from 2004, the unit has custody of sound and video recordings of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, including the famed “Zapruder film.” He first began working for the National Archives in 1969.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


National Archives Unveil 3,000 Civil War Docs Transcribed by Walt Whitman

Photodisc/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- To mark the 150th anniversary of Fort Sumter and the start of the Civil War, the National Archives unveiled nearly 3,000 Civil War-related documents and records transcribed by one of America’s most revered authors and poets -- Walt Whitman.

Best known for writing “Leaves of Grass,” Whitman transcribed these documents while working as a government clerk in Washington, D.C. in the decade following the Civil War.  Whitman worked as a clerk for the Army Paymaster's office, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Attorney General's office.  Ralph Waldo Emerson first helped Whitman obtain his clerkship by recommending him on literary and patriotic grounds.

Though the documents unveiled Tuesday do not contain Whitman’s original thoughts, they provide insight into Whitman’s post-war writing and thinking.  

“We’ve tended to think of Whitman in two ways during the Civil War as the person who was attentively visiting these soldiers and as this great poet of the Civil War, and people don’t think about the third life he had going on in Washington, D.C.,” Price said.  “It’s the life the city directory records as his fundamental life.  It’s the life that funded the other two lives.”

The documents previously sat hidden in the National Archives until Whitman scholar Kenneth Price, a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, uncovered them over the past three years.

Price became familiar with Whitman’s handwriting while editing his previously unedited poetry manuscripts in 2000.   Few of the records contain Whitman’s signature of “W.W,” but Price said the meticulous handwriting matched that of Whitman’s.

The documents and records released Tuesday cover a variety of topics from the post-Civil War era -- from the trial of Jefferson Davis to railroad expansion to the West to concerns about polygamy and Mormons in Utah.  Another document displayed Tuesday was a letter Whitman wrote under the name of President Andrew Johnson, including his signature which Whitman penned.

The Whitman documents will continue to live at the National Archives and will be digitally published at the Walt Whitman Archive online.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

ABC News Radio