It's usual to use the past tense when referring to the length of time that somebody did something.
He worked for more than eight hours without a stop.
She ruled the country for 30 years.
They swam for several hours to reach the shore.
But when you are looking back on a period or an event, especially when you are telling a story and trying to bring events to life, the past progressive works better. It has a more dramatic feel to it:
By the turn of the century, many people were succumbing to the plague.
By the time the fire service arrived, people on the balconies were calling for help.
By then the seas were pounding against the cliffs.
In your examples, 1 definitely requires the past tense. No 2 takes either tense, but the past progressive fits the context better.