Governor of California
Ronald Wilson Reagan was born February 6, 1911, in Tampico, Illinois. Most of his childhood was spent in Dixon, Illinois, a small town about 100 miles west of Chicago. Reagan won a scholarship to study at Eureka College near Peoria, Illinois and majored in economics. He was also drawn toward acting, but upon graduation in 1932 the only job available related to show business was as a local radio sportscaster. In 1933 he became a sportscaster for station WHO in Des Moines, Iowa.
In 1937 Reagan went to Hollywood and began an acting career that spanned more than 25 years. He played in more than 50 films and his first political activities were associated with his responsibilities as a union leader; Reagan was active in the Screen Actors Guild (the union for film actors), and was elected six times as its president. During 1942 to 1945, Reagan served in the United States Army Air Force.
Reagan emerged on the national political scene in 1964 when he made an impassioned television speech supporting the Republican presidential candidate, U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater from Arizona. Although Goldwater lost the election, Reagan's speech brought recognition from Republicans around the country. He ran for governor of California in 1966, defeating Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, Sr., the incumbent Democrat, by almost a million votes. Reagan became the 33rd Governor of California.
During his first term Reagan temporarily stopped government hiring to slow the growth of the state workforce, but he also approved tax increases to balance the state budget. Reagan was elected to a second term in 1970. Governor Reagan worked with the Democratic majority in the state legislature to enact a major reform of the welfare system in 1971. The reform reduced the number of people receiving state aid while increasing the benefits for those who remained eligible. During his tenure as governor, Reagan chaired the Republican Governors Association from 1968 to 1969.
Ronald Reagan won the Republican Presidential nomination in 1980 and chose as his running mate former Texas Congressman and United Nations Ambassador George Bush. Voters troubled by inflation and by the year-long confinement of Americans in Iran swept the Republican ticket into office. Reagan won 489 electoral votes to 49 for President Jimmy Carter.
On January 20, 1981, Reagan took office. Only 69 days later he was shot by a would-be assassin, but quickly recovered and returned to duty. His grace and wit during the dangerous incident caused his popularity to soar.
Dealing skillfully with Congress, Reagan obtained legislation to stimulate economic growth, curb inflation, increase employment, and strengthen national defense. He embarked upon a course of cutting taxes and Government expenditures, refusing to deviate from it when the strengthening of defense forces led to a large deficit.
A renewal of national self-confidence by 1984 helped Reagan and Bush win a second term with an unprecedented number of electoral votes. Their victory turned away Democratic challengers Walter F. Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro.
In 1986 Reagan obtained an overhaul of the income tax code, which eliminated many deductions and exempted millions of people with low incomes. At the end of his administration, the Nation was enjoying its longest recorded period of peacetime prosperity without recession or depression.
In foreign policy, Reagan sought to achieve "peace through strength." During his two terms he increased defense spending 35 percent, but sought to improve relations with the Soviet Union. In dramatic meetings with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, he negotiated a treaty that would eliminate intermediate-range nuclear missiles. Reagan declared war against international terrorism, sending American bombers against Libya after evidence came out that Libya was involved in an attack on American soldiers in a West Berlin nightclub.
By ordering naval escorts in the Persian Gulf, he maintained the free flow of oil during the Iran-Iraq war. In keeping with the Reagan Doctrine, he gave support to anti-Communist insurgencies in Central America, Asia, and Africa.
After retiring to California, Reagan remained politically visible and active, becoming a national and international spokesman. He published his autobiography, An American Life, in 1990 and opened the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California in 1991. In 1993 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In November 1994 Reagan announced that he had Alzheimer's disease, and he subsequently died of the illness in 2004.