Ronald Reagan was a television and movie actor who became the 40th president of the United States. He was a popular president, easily winning two terms in office. He had a charming manner and was a gifted public speaker. Reagan was the oldest person to serve as U.S. president, reaching the age of 77 near the end of his second term.
Ronald Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois. He was the second son of John and Nelle Reagan. Reagan grew up in Dixon, Illinois, about 100 miles (about 160 kilometers) southwest of Chicago. His father was a salesman. His mother, who taught him to read at an early age, was his strongest childhood influence.
Reagan, whose nickname was Dutch, won a scholarship to Eureka College near Peoria, Illinois. He was elected student body president, played football, and was captain of the swim team. After he graduated in 1932, Reagan became a radio sportscaster. In 1937, he moved to southern California and began an acting career.
Reagan starred in more than 50 films, including the 1940 movie Knute Rockne—All American. In 1951 he appeared in the movie Bedtime for Bonzo, and his costar was a chimpanzee!
In 1940 Reagan married actress Jane Wyman and they had a daughter, Maureen, and an adopted son, Michael. After eight years, the marriage ended in divorce. In 1952, Reagan married another actress, Nancy Davis. He and his wife starred together in the 1957 movie Hellcats of the Navy. They had two children, Patricia and Ronald, Jr.
GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA
Reagan was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild (an organization for film actors) six times. In 1966, a group of Republicans from California persuaded him to run for governor. Despite the fact that he had never held public office before, he won by almost a million votes. California prospered under Reagan’s leadership and he was elected to a second term in 1970.
WINNING THE PRESIDENCY
Reagan ran for president in 1976 but lost the Republican nomination to President Gerald Ford. Democrat Jimmy Carter beat Ford in the general election, however. Four years later, Reagan became the Republican candidate. In the 1980 election, he easily defeated Carter, becoming the 40th president of the United States.
As president, Reagan became known as “the great communicator.” Reagan became popular among middle-class and working Americans, many of whom had previously supported the Democratic Party. He said that the federal government was taxing Americans too much and had grown too large. In 1981, Reagan was shot in an assassination attempt in Washington, D.C., but he quickly recovered.
In 1984, Reagan soundly defeated Democratic candidate Walter Mondale and won reelection. Reagan won in 49 of the 50 states and received the highest vote total in American history—54,455,075.
Reagan based his economic programs on cutting taxes and reducing government spending. He also lifted many restrictions on businesses, a process known as deregulation.
Reagan also believed in spending a great deal of money on the U.S. military. He felt strongly that the United States needed to build up its armies and weaponry to prevent a nuclear attack by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). In the late 1980s, the Soviet government lost the control it had over Eastern European nations. In 1991, several years after Reagan left office, the Soviet Union itself fell apart. Reagan is often credited with winning what is known as the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.
After he left the White house, Reagan retired to his California ranch. He published his autobiography, An American Life, in 1990. The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library opened in Simi Valley, California, in 1991. In November 1994, Reagan announced that he had Alzheimer’s disease, a disease of the brain. A year later, he and his wife established the Ronald and Nancy Reagan Research Institute to help find a cure for the disease. Ronald Reagan died in 2004.