Ronald Wilson Reagan was born on February 6, 1911, in Tampico, Illinois, and attended high school in Dixon, Illinois. Upon his graduation, he attended Eureka College near Peoria, Illinois, where he excelled in football and acting. Not long after his graduation in 1932, he was hired by radio station WOC in nearby Davenport, Iowa, broadcasting Chicago Cubs games. In 1942, Ronald caught his big break when he was “discovered” by a talent agent for Warner Brothers and signed to a seven year acting contract, eventually starring in more than 50 films.
In 1940, Ronald married actress Jane Wyman (they would divorce in 1948) and appeared in his best known film role, playing Notre Dame Football legend George Gipp in the movie Knute Rockne, All American. In 1952 Reagan married actress Nancy Davis and began his career in politics, leading the “Democrats for Eisenhower” movement. In 1960, Ronald Reagan led the group “Democrats for Nixon” during the presidential campaign. In 1964, Reagan delivered a speech supporting Barry Goldwater, attacking President Johnson’s “Great Society” programs. After Goldwater lost the election to President Johnson, Reagan emerged as a leader of the conservative movement.
In 1966 Reagan won the governorship of California, defeating his opponent by more than 1 million votes. Governor Reagan was responsible for many controversial decisions during his term as governor, including the liberalization of California’s abortion laws and sending the National Guard to break up a student demonstration at the University of California at Berkeley. In his two terms as governor, he managed to turn a $200 million deficit into a $1.1 billion surplus.
After leaving office in 1975, Reagan launched his presidential campaign, running against incumbent Gerald Ford who had the backing of the Republican Party and would eventually withdraw from the race. In 1980, Reagan ran again for the Presidency defeating Jimmy Carter in a landslide, wining 44 states.
Within the first year of Ronald Reagan’s administration, a number of memorable events occurred. On January 20, 1981, the day Reagan was inaugurated, Iran released 52 hostages that were captured at American Embassy during the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Then, on March 30, as President Reagan was leaving a Washington hotel, John Hinckley Jr. emerged from the crowd and fired several shots at the president. Even though Reagan was hit in the chest near his heart, he survived the attempt on his life. In September, President Reagan appointed the first woman to the Supreme Court, with the confirmation of Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
The next two years turned into the low point of the Reagan administration when the US economy experienced its longest recession since the 1930s, yet by early 1983, the economy was back on track. In 1984, Reagan won the election easily, carrying 49 states in a landslide victory over Democrat Walter Mondale.
President Reagan’s second term began with what was later referred to as the “Reagan Doctrine” a program of supporting armed insurgents in conflict with Soviet sponsored governments. That fall, he also began a string of summits with Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev about the ongoing arms race between the superpowers. His continued relations with Gorbachev, as well as his public challenges to him, most notably in a 1987 speech in Berlin wherein he implored Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” were influential in the collapse of the Soviet Union. His second term was also plagued by scandal, with the revelation of the Iran-Contra affair, which would lead to the indictment of National Security Advisor John Poindexter.
President Reagan was succeeded by his Vice-President George H.W. Bush on January 20, 1989. On November 9, Soviet President Gorbachev opened the Berlin Wall, signaling the beginning of the end of Communism in Eastern Europe.
Ronald Reagan was in many ways the embodiment of the American dream. From humble beginnings, he rose to a seat of unparalleled power and influence. He was one of the most popular presidents in American history, leaving office with the highest approval rating of any president since Franklin Roosevelt. He accomplished more than most people could ever hope to accomplish and his death on June 5, 2004, was heralded by many as a “sad day for America.”