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Ronald Reagan
Reagan's presidential portrait, 1981
Official portrait, 1981
40th President of the United States
In office
January 20, 1981 – January 20, 1989
Vice President George H. W. Bush
Preceded by Jimmy Carter
Succeeded by George H. W. Bush
33rd Governor of California
In office
January 2, 1967 – January 6, 1975
Preceded by Pat Brown
Succeeded by Jerry Brown
9th and 13th President of the Screen Actors Guild
In office
November 16, 1959 – June 7, 1960
Preceded by Howard Keel
Succeeded by George Chandler
In office
March 10, 1947 – November 10, 1952
Preceded by Robert Montgomery
Succeeded by Walter Pidgeon
Personal details
Ronald Wilson Reagan

(1911-02-06)February 6, 1911
Tampico, Illinois, U.S.
Died June 5, 2004(2004-06-05) (aged 93)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting place Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
Political party Republican (from 1962)
Other political
Democratic (until 1962)
(m. 1940; div. 1949)
(m. 1952)
Children 5, including Maureen, Michael, Patti, and Ron
Relatives Neil Reagan (brother)
Alma mater Eureka College (BA)
  • Actor
  • politician
  • sports broadcaster
  • union leader
Awards Full list
Signature Cursive signature in ink
Military service
Years of service
  • 1937–1942 (reserve)
  • 1942–1945 (regular)
Rank US-O3 insignia.svg Captain

Ronald Wilson Reagan ( RAY-gən; February 6, 1911 – June 5, 2004) was an American politician and actor who served as the 40th president of the United States from 1981 to 1989. A member of the Republican Party, his presidency constituted the Reagan era, and he was considered one of the most prominent conservative figures in the United States.

Early life

Ronald Wilson Reagan was born on February 6, 1911, in a commercial building in Tampico, Illinois, as the younger son of Nelle Clyde Wilson and Jack Reagan.

Ronald Reagan in football uniform on field at Eureka College in Eureka, Illinois
Reagan at Eureka

Reagan attended Dixon High School, where he developed interests in drama and football. His first job involved working as a lifeguard at the Rock River in Lowell Park. In 1928, Reagan began attending Eureka College at Nelle's approval on religious grounds. He was a mediocre student that participated in sports, drama, and campus politics. He became student body president and joined a student strike that resulted in the college president's resignation. Reagan played at the guard position for the 1930 and 1931 Eureka Red Devils football teams and recalled a time when two black football teammates were refused service at a segregated hotel; he invited them to his parents' home nearby in Dixon and his parents welcomed them. At the time, his parents' stance on racial questions were unusually progressive in Dixon. Reagan himself had grown up with very few black Americans there and was unaware of a race problem.

Entertainment career

After obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics and sociology from Eureka College in 1932, Reagan took a job in Davenport, Iowa, as a sports broadcaster for four football games in the Big Ten Conference. He then worked for WHO radio in Des Moines as a broadcaster for the Chicago Cubs. His specialty was creating play-by-play accounts of games using only basic descriptions that the station received by wire as the games were in progress. Simultaneously, he often expressed his opposition to racism. In 1936, while traveling with the Cubs to their spring training in California, Reagan took a screen test that led to a seven-year contract with Warner Bros.

Reagan arrived at Hollywood in 1937, debuting in Love Is on the Air (1937). Using a simple and direct approach to acting and following his directors' instructions, Reagan made thirty films, mostly B films, before beginning military service in April 1942. He broke out of these types of films by portraying George Gipp in Knute Rockne, All American (1940), which would be rejuvenated when reporters called Reagan "the Gipper" while he campaigned for president of the United States. Afterward, Reagan starred in Kings Row (1942) as a leg amputee, asking, "Where's the rest of me?" His performance was considered his best by many critics. Reagan became a star, with Gallup polls placing him "in the top 100 stars" from 1941 to 1942.

World War II interrupted the movie stardom that Reagan would never be able to achieve again as Warner Bros. became uncertain about his ability to generate ticket sales. Reagan, who had a limited acting range, was dissatisfied with the roles he received. As a result, Lew Wasserman renegotiated his contract with his studio, allowing him to also make films with Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures, and RKO Pictures as a freelancer. With this, Reagan appeared in multiple western films, something that had been denied him working at Warner Bros. In 1952, he ended his relationship with Warner Bros., but went on to appear in a total of 53 films, his last being The Killers (1964).

From 1959 to 1960, Reagan again served as the Screen Actors Guild's president.

Military service

Reagan FMPU
Reagan at Fort Roach, between 1943 and 1944

In April 1937, Reagan enlisted in the United States Army Reserve. He was assigned as a private in Des Moines' 322nd Cavalry Regiment and reassigned to second lieutenant in the Officers Reserve Corps. He later became a part of the 323rd Cavalry Regiment in California. As relations between the United States and Japan worsened, Reagan was ordered for active duty while he was filming Kings Row. Wasserman and Warner Bros. lawyers successfully sent draft deferments to complete the film in October 1941. However, to avoid accusations of Reagan being a draft dodger, the studio let him go in April 1942.

Reagan reported for duty with severe near-sightedness. His first assignment was at Fort Mason as a liaison officer, a role that allowed him to transfer to the United States Army Air Forces (AAF). Reagan became an AAF public relations officer and was subsequently assigned to the 18th AAF Base Unit in Culver City where he felt that it was "impossible to remove an incompetent or lazy worker" due to what he felt was "the incompetence, the delays, and inefficiencies" of the federal bureaucracy. Despite this, Reagan participated in the Provisional Task Force Show Unit in Burbank and continued to make theatrical films. He was also ordered to temporary duty in New York City to participate in the sixth War Loan Drive before being reassigned to Fort MacArthur until his discharge on December 9, 1945, as a captain. Throughout his military service, Reagan produced over 400 training films.

Marriages and children

Actors Jane Wyman and Ronald Reagan at a Los Angeles premiere for the 1942 film Tales of Manhattan
Reagan and Jane Wyman, 1942
The Reagans at The Stork Club in New York City, 1952
Ronald and Nancy Reagan, 1952

Reagan married Brother Rat (1938) co-star Jane Wyman in January 1940. Together, they had two biological daughters: Maureen in 1941, and Christine, born prematurely and dead the next day in 1947. They adopted one son, Michael, in 1945. Wyman filed to divorce Reagan in June 1948. She was uninterested in politics, and occasionally recriminated, reconciled and separated with him. Although Reagan was unprepared, the divorce was finalized in July 1949. Reagan would also remain close to his children. Later that year, Reagan met Nancy Davis after she contacted him in his capacity as the SAG president about her name appearing on a communist blacklist in Hollywood; she had been mistaken for another Nancy Davis. They married in March 1952 and had two children, Patti in 1952, and Ron in 1958.


Reagan became the host of MCA Inc. television production General Electric Theater at Wasserman's recommendation. It featured multiple guest stars, and Ronald and Nancy Reagan, continuing to use her stage name Nancy Davis, acted together in three episodes. When asked how Reagan was able to recruit such stars to appear on the show during television's infancy, he replied, "Good stories, top direction, production quality." However, the viewership declined in the 1960s and the show was canceled in 1962. In 1965, Reagan became the host of another MCA production, Death Valley Days.

Early political activities

Goldwater-Reagan in 1964
Reagan campaigning with Barry Goldwater, 1964

Reagan began as a Democrat, viewing Franklin D. Roosevelt as "a true hero". He joined the American Veterans Committee and Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts, Sciences and Professions (HICCASP), worked with the AFL–CIO to fight right-to-work laws, and continued to speak out against racism when he was in Hollywood. In 1945, Reagan planned to lead an HICCASP anti-nuclear rally, but Warner Bros. prevented him from going. In 1946, he appeared in a radio program called Operation Terror to speak out against rising Ku Klux Klan activity in the country. Reagan also supported Harry S. Truman in the 1948 presidential election and Helen Gahagan Douglas for the United States Senate in 1950. It was Reagan's belief that communism was a powerful backstage influence in Hollywood that led him to rally his friends against them.

Reagan was elected governor of California in 1966. During his governorship, he raised taxes, turned the state budget deficit into a surplus, and cracked down harshly on university protests. After challenging and nearly defeating incumbent president Gerald Ford in the 1976 Republican presidential primaries, Reagan won the Republican nomination and then a landslide victory over incumbent Democratic president Jimmy Carter in the 1980 United States presidential election.


In his first term, Reagan implemented "Reaganomics", which involved economic deregulation and cuts in both taxes and government spending during a period of stagflation. He escalated an arms race and transitioned Cold War policy away from détente with the Soviet Union; he also ordered the invasion of Grenada in 1983. Additionally, he survived an assassination attempt, fought public sector labor unions, expanded the war on drugs, and was slow to respond to the AIDS epidemic in the United States, which began early in his presidency. In the 1984 presidential election, Reagan defeated former vice president Walter Mondale in another landslide victory. Foreign affairs dominated Reagan's second term, including the 1986 bombing of Libya, the Iran–Iraq War, the secret and illegal sale of arms to Iran to fund the Contras, and a more conciliatory approach in talks with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that culminated in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

Reagan left the presidency in 1989 with the American economy having seen a significant reduction of inflation, the unemployment rate having fallen, and the United States having entered its then-longest peacetime expansion. At the same time, the national debt had nearly tripled since 1981 as a result of his cuts in taxes and increased military spending, despite cuts to domestic discretionary spending. Reagan's policies also helped contribute to the end of the Cold War and the end of Soviet communism.

1989–2004: Post-presidency

Reagan and Gorbachev relaxing at Rancho del Cielo in May 1992. Reagan gave Gorbachev a white cowboy hat, which he wore backwards.
Reagan and Gorbachev at Rancho del Cielo, 1992
The Reagans and Newport News Shipbuilding chairman and CEO William Frick standing behind a model of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, 1996
Nancy and Ronald Reagan with a model of USS Ronald Reagan, 1996

After leaving the presidency on January 20, 1989, Ronald and Nancy Reagan lived at 668 St. Cloud Road in Bel Air, in addition to Rancho del Cielo in Santa Barbara. He received multiple awards and honors, and received generous payments for speaking engagements. In 1991, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library opened. Reagan also addressed the 1992 Republican National Convention "to inspire allegiance to the party regulars"; publicly favored the Brady Bill, drawing criticism from gun control opponents; a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget; and the repeal of the 22nd Amendment. His final public speech occurred on February 3, 1994, during a tribute to him in Washington, D.C.; his last major public appearance was at the funeral of Richard Nixon on April 27, 1994.

In August 1994, Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, which he announced through a handwritten letter in November. There was speculation over how long he had demonstrated symptoms of mental degeneration, but lay observations that he suffered from Alzheimer's while still in office have been widely refuted by medical experts; his doctors said that he first began exhibiting overt symptoms of the illness in late 1992 or 1993. Over time, the disease destroyed Reagan's mental capacity. By 1997, he was reported to recognize few people other than his wife, though he continued to walk through parks and on beaches, play golf, and visit his office in nearby Century City. Eventually, his family decided that he would live in quiet semi-isolation with his wife. By the end of 2003, Reagan had lost his ability to speak and was mostly confined to his bed, no longer able to recognize any family members.

Death and funeral

Reagan died of pneumonia, complicated by Alzheimer's, at his home in Los Angeles, on June 5, 2004. President George W. Bush called Reagan's death "a sad hour in the life of America". His public funeral was held in the Washington National Cathedral, where eulogies were given by Margaret Thatcher, Brian Mulroney, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush. Other world leaders attended including Mikhail Gorbachev and Lech Wałęsa. Reagan was interred at his presidential library.


Historical reputation

View of the Reagan Library from the south
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

In 2008, British historian M. J. Heale summarized that scholars had reached a broad consensus in which "Reagan rehabilitated conservatism, turned the country to the right, practiced a 'pragmatic conservatism' that balanced ideology with the constraints of government, revived faith in the presidency and American self-respect, and contributed to critically ending the Cold War", which ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Many conservative and liberal scholars have agreed that Reagan has been the most influential president since Roosevelt, leaving his imprint on American politics, diplomacy, culture, and economics through his effective communication of his conservative agenda and pragmatic compromising. During the initial years of Reagan's post-presidency, historical rankings placed his presidency in the twenties. Throughout the 2000s and 2010s, his presidency was often placed in the top ten.

Many proponents, including his Cold War contemporaries, believe that his defense policies, economic policies, military policies, and hard-line rhetoric against the Soviet Union and communism, together with his summits with Gorbachev, played a significant part in ending the Cold War. Professor Jeffrey Knopf argues that while Reagan's practice of referring to the Soviet Union as "evil" probably made no difference to the Soviet leaders, it possibly gave encouragement to Eastern European citizens who opposed their communist regimes. President Truman's policy of containment is also regarded as a force behind the fall of the Soviet Union, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan undermined the Soviet system itself. Nevertheless, Melvyn P. Leffler called Reagan "Gorbachev's minor, yet indispensable partner, setting the framework for the dramatic changes that neither anticipated happening anytime soon".

Critics, for example Paul Krugman, note Reagan's tenure as having begun a period of increased income inequality, sometimes called the "Great Divergence". Krugman also views Reagan as having initiated the ideology of the current-day Republican Party, which he feels is led by "radicals" who seek to "undo the twentieth century" gains in income equality and unionization. Others, such as Nixon's Secretary of Commerce Peter G. Peterson, also criticize what they feel was not just Reagan's fiscal irresponsibility, but also ushering in an era where tax cutting "became the GOP's core platform". With resulting deficits and GOP leaders (speciously in Peterson's opinion) arguing supply-side gains would enable the country to "grow" its way out of deficits.

Reagan was known for storytelling and humor, which involved puns and self-deprecation. Reagan also often emphasized family values, despite being the first president to have been divorced. He showed the ability to comfort Americans during the aftermath of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Reagan's ability to talk about substantive issues with understandable terms and to focus on mainstream American concerns earned him the laudatory moniker the "Great Communicator". He also earned the nickname "Teflon President" in that public perceptions of him were not substantially tarnished by the multitude of controversies that arose during his administration.

Political influence

Reagan led a new conservative movement, altering the political dynamic of the United States. Conservatism became the dominant ideology for Republicans, displacing the party's faction of liberals and moderates. In his time, men began voting more Republican, and women began voting more Democrat – a gender distinction that has persisted. He was supported by young voters, an allegiance that shifted many of them to the party. He attempted to appeal to black voters in 1980, but would receive the lowest black vote for a Republican presidential candidate at the time. Throughout Reagan's presidency, Republicans were unable to gain complete control of Congress.

The period of American history most dominated by Reagan and his policies (particularly on taxes, welfare, defense, the federal judiciary, and the Cold War) is known as the Reagan era, which suggests that the "Reagan Revolution" had a lasting impact on the United States in domestic and foreign policy. The Bill Clinton administration is often treated as an extension of the era, as is the George W. Bush administration. Since 1988, Republican presidential candidates have invoked Reagan's policies and beliefs. Carlos Lozada noted Trump's praising of Reagan in a book he published during his 2016 campaign.

Related pages

Coat of Arms of Ronald Reagan
Coat of arms of Reagan

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Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Ronald Reagan para niños

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