(CBS News) - When the National Archives and Records Administration released the 1940 Census records on Monday, they may not have expected just how many people would want to access the 72-year-old data. Now, the department is apologizing because millions of Americans who logged on to look up the information couldn't access the site.
"In the first three hours, we had 22.5 million hits on the site," National Archives and Records Administration spokeswoman Susan Cooper told the Los Angeles Times. "We're a victim of our own success."
While some people could get through on the website, many could not load the pages because too many users overwhelmed the servers. Some users were subjected to loading times of upwards of 20 minutes and longer, including CBS News staff.
The Archives hired Inflection, a database company, to run the servers, but the influx of searches from the 1.9 million unique users was too much for the company to handle. Twitter user @1940sCensusNews, which is run in conjunction with the National Archives, reported that the official website was getting 100,000 hits every second.
"It's frustrating and we share that frustration with the public," Cooper said. "We're working as fast as we can to fix the problem."
The National Archives and its related 1940s Census Twitter accounts attempted to apologize to users online, encouraging them to refresh their page to see if they could get results.
Inflection is making improvements that may affect the #1940census site. Thank you for your patience as we fix this.— National Archives(@archivesnews) April 2, 2012
The release of the census information marks the first time the archives has been published online for free. The public can now search through the records of the more than 132 million people living in the United States that year, who were experiencing life right after the Great Depression and right before World War II. The data was held for 72 years because of privacy laws.
The organization worked with with with archives.com to put 3.8 million images from the 1940 Census online, according to Newsday.
While the ability to search for a person's name will come later thanks to partnerships with Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org, interested parties can look up information using an address or neighborhood.