Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan

40th President, 1981-1989

Early Life and Pre-presidency

White House photograph of Reagan, 1985

White House photograph of Reagan, 1985

  • Born Ronald Wilson Reagan on February 6, 1911 in Tampico, Illinois.
  • Parents: Jack Reagan and Nelle Wilson. Sibling: Neil.
  • Graduated from Dixon High School in 1928.
  • Enrolled at Eureka College in Eureka, Illinois in 1928, graduating in 1932.
  • After graduation, worked as a radio sportscaster in Davenport, Iowa, then became a sports announcer covering football and the Chicago Cubs baseball games.
  • In 1937, while in California to cover the Cubs spring training, he took a screen test that got him a 7-year movie contract with Warner Brothers.
  • Married Jane Wyman (1914–2007) on January 26, 1940, divorced 1948; Nancy Davis (1923–) on March 4, 1952. Children: Maureen Elizabeth (1941–2001), Michael Edward (1945–), Patricia Ann (1952–), and Ronald Prescott (1958–).
  • Enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve in April 1937 and was called to active duty in May 1942. He worked in the First Motion Picture Unit producing training films for the Army Air Force. He left active duty in December 1945 and returned to acting.
  • Elected to the Screen Actors Guild Board of Directors in 1941 and became President from 1947 to 1952 and in 1959.
  • Was the President of SAG when the House Committee on Un-American Activities investigated Hollywood for its alleged Communist ties in 1947.
  • From 1937 to 1957, he appeared in 52 Hollywood films.
  • Hosted the TV show General Electric Theaterfrom 1954 to 1962, then hosted Death Valley Daysfrom 1964 to 1965.
  • Elected Governor of California in 1966 and served from 1967 to 1975.
  • Campaigned for the Republican Party’s nomination for President in the 1976 election but lost to the incumbent Gerald Ford.
  • Nominated as the Republican Party’s Presidential candidate in the 1980 election. He won with 50.7% of the popular vote and a majority of the electoral votes.


Portrait of Reagan at his California ranch, 1976 Courtesy National Archives

Portrait of Reagan at his California ranch, 1976
Courtesy National Archives

  • Took his oath of office on January 20, 1981 at the West Front, U.S. Capitol.
  • On the day of his inauguration, the remaining 52 American hostages in Iran were released.
  • On March 30, 1981, John Warnock Hinckley Jr. attempted to assassinate Reagan by shooting him in the chest outside the Washington Hilton Hotel. Reagan recovered and was released from the hospital on April 11.
  • Signed the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981, which significantly reduced individual income tax rates, estate taxes, and corporate taxes.
  • In 1981, Reagan ordered a buildup of the U.S. Armed Forces, revived the B-1 Lancer bomber program, and ordered the production of the MX missile in response to the Cold War with the Soviet Union. In a March 1983, he called the Soviet Union the “evil empire.”
  • Signed the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 in September. The law was created to reduce the budget deficit caused by the on-going recession.
  • Signed the Social Security Reform Bill in April 1983. The law made comprehensive changes in the coverage, financing, and benefit structure of the Social Security system.
  • Ran for re-election in 1984 and won by a landslide.
  • In November 1985, Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev held a summit conference in Geneva, Switzerland to discuss arms control. They would meet again in Reykjavik, Iceland in October 1986, and finally in Washington, D.C. in December 1987 where they signed the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
  • Ordered a massive airstrike against Libya in April 1986 in retaliation for the bombing of a discotheque in West Berlin frequented by American servicemen that was tracked to that country. The attack was called Operation El Dorado Canyon.
  • Signed the Tax Reform Act of 1986 into law in October, which simplified the income tax code.
  • In November 1986, the Iran–Contra affair was investigated by the Tower Commission. In February 1987, the Commission found that Reagan had no knowledge of the affair’s extent. In March 1987, Reagan claimed full responsibility for the affair on national television, even though he had no knowledge of it.
  • Visited West Berlin in June 1987 and made his famous speech at the Berlin Wall challenging Soviet Premier Gorbachev to embrace democracy by saying “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
  • Visited the Soviet Union from May 29 to June 1, 1988, his first time to the country. During the visit, Reagan pressed Gorbachev to address the country’s human rights issues.
  • Reagan created several economic policies during his term to reduce government spending, federal income tax, capital gains tax, inflation, and government regulation. These policies were referred to as “Reaganomics.”


Ronald and Nancy Reagan, 1992 Courtesy Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation

Ronald and Nancy Reagan, 1992
Courtesy Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation

  • Retired to a newly purchased house in Bel Air, Los Angeles.
  • Published his autobiograpy, An American Life, in November 1990.
  • The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California was dedicated on November 4, 1991. The dedication ceremony was attended by five U.S. Presidents, a first.
  • Established the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award in 1992 to honor “those who have made monumental and lasting contributions to the cause of freedom worldwide.” Mikhael Gorbachev was the recipient of the first award, which was presented by President Reagan.
  • Received the Presidential Medal of Freedom on January 18, 1993 from President George H.W. Bush. It is the highest honor bestowed by the United States.
  • Delivered his last public speech in February 1994 and made his last major public appearance on April 27, 1994 at the funeral service for former President Nixon.
  • In November 1994, Reagan announced that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Due to his illness, Reagan slowly retreated from public life and was put in semi-isolation by his wife Nancy Reagan.
  • Suffered a broken hip from a fall in January 2001 and had to undergo physical therapy.
  • Died on June 5, 2004 of pneumonia resulting from his disease.
  • His body lay in repose at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on June 7, 2004 where a funeral service for the family was held. His body was then flown to Washington, D.C. on June 9, where it lay in state at the U.S. Capitol.
  • Reagan’s state funeral was held on June 11 at the Washington National Cathedral. Many world leaders were in attendance, including former Soviet Premier Gorbachev.
  • Reagan was flown back to California and interred at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
  • Reagan is the second longest-lived U.S. President after Gerald Ford.
  • Reports circulated that Reagan may have been suffering the onset of Alzheimer’s disease during his Presidency. But the doctors who saw him while in office denied that Reagan exhibited such symptoms.