A Biography of US President Ronald Wilson Reagan (1911-2004)

Ronald Reagan Gives A Speech In Washington Photo: Dirck Hal
Dirck Halstead/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Early Years:

Ronald Wilson Reagan was born to Nelle and John Reagan on Feb. 6, 1911 in Tampico, Ill. After high school, he attended Eureka College, where he studied economics and played football. He also acted in school plays. After graduation, he became a radio sportscaster, and in 1937, he landed a Hollywood contract and appeared in 53 films, all thanks to a single successful screen test.


Reagan and his first wife, Jane Wyman, had two children, Maureen and Michael.

Reagan married actress Nancy Davis n 1952, with whom he had two children, Patricia Ann and Ronald Prescott.


During his time as president of the Screen Actors’ Guild, Reagan’s political views shifted from liberal to conservative due to his intense involvement with the issue of communism in the film industry. He subsequently became a national spokesman for conservatism.

Governor of California:

Reagan’s notoriety as a film actor and national spokesman led to his election as governor of California in 1966. He won by more than a million votes. He was an extremely popular executive and was subsequently re-elected in 1970.

1980 Presidential Campaign:

By 1980, Reagan’s popularity, along with his political and conservative credentials earned him the Republican nomination. He chose Texas Congressman and UN Ambassador George H.W. Bush as his running-mate. Inflation and the hostage crisis in Iran swept the Republican ticket into office.

Reagan beat the incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter by a landslide – 489 electoral votes for Reagan to just 49 for Carter.

First Term:

No sooner had Reagan taken office, than the Iranians returned the American hostages. Sixty-nine days into his first term, he was shot by John Hinckley Jr. He quickly recovered and his sense of humor made him an extremely popular political icon.

Reagan’s people skills also earned him strong alliances in Congress, not to mention a few strained relationships, but in the end, he obtained legislation that curbed inflation, increased employment, strengthened national defense, cut taxes and reduced federal spending.

Second Term:

By 1984, with the economy bustling and consumer confidence at an all-time high, Reagan and Bush roundly defeated Democratic challengers Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro. With a green light from the voters, Reagan overhauled the income tax code, eliminating many deductions but exempting millions of Americans with low incomes. By 1988, the nation had enjoyed the largest recorded period of peacetime prosperity in American history.


Although he increased the nation’s defense spending by more than a third, Reagan doggedly sought to improve relations with the Soviet Union and successfully negotiated a treaty with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the called for the elimination of mid-range nuclear missiles. He also was the first American president to identify terrorism as an international threat. He reacted strongly and swiftly after learning Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi was behind an attack on American soldiers in West Berlin.

Iran-Contra Affair:

During the Iran-Iraq war, Reagan ordered naval escorts to the Persian Gulf to maintain the free flow of oil. As part of his Doctrine, he gave support to anti-Communist insurgencies in Central America, Asia and Africa. The covert use of proceeds to fund these insurgencies were alleged to come from arms sales to Iran. The scandal broke in 1986, but continued to dog the administration well beyond Reagan’s final years in office.

Later Years and Death:

Although Reagan testified that he knew nothing about the deal, it was apparent to many that his protestations were something more than ignorance. His detractors claimed he was merely a good actor, but in 1994, he and his family announced he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Reagan died in Bel Air, Calif. on June 5, 2004, after suffering with Alzheimer’s for 10 years.

He was 93.

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Your Citation
Hawkins, Marcus. "A Biography of US President Ronald Wilson Reagan (1911-2004)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 23, 2016, thoughtco.com/a-biography-of-us-president-ronald-wilson-reagan-3303413. Hawkins, Marcus. (2016, August 23). A Biography of US President Ronald Wilson Reagan (1911-2004). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/a-biography-of-us-president-ronald-wilson-reagan-3303413 Hawkins, Marcus. "A Biography of US President Ronald Wilson Reagan (1911-2004)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/a-biography-of-us-president-ronald-wilson-reagan-3303413 (accessed December 11, 2017).