kids encyclopedia robot

Ronald Reagan facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Quick facts for kids
Ronald Reagan
Official Portrait of President Reagan 1981.jpg
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 12, 1960
Preceded by Howard Keel
Succeeded by George Chandler
In office
November 17, 1947 – November 9, 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)
Bel Air, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death Pneumonia caused by Alzheimer's disease
Resting place Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Center
34°15′32″N 118°49′14″W / 34.25899°N 118.82043°W / 34.25899; -118.82043
Political party Republican
Other political
Democratic (before 1962)
Relations Neil Reagan (brother)
Children With Wyman:
Maureen, Christine, Michael
With Davis:
Patti, Ron
Alma mater Eureka College (BA)
  • Actor
  • politician
  • sports commentator
Signature Ronald Reagan Signature2.svg
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Branch/service US Army Air Corps Hap Arnold Wings.svg U.S. Army Air Forces
Years of service 1937–1945
Rank US-O3 insignia.svg Captain
Unit 18th AAF Base Unit

Ronald Wilson Reagan ( February 6, 1911 – June 5, 2004) was an American actor and politician. He was the 40th President of the United States from 1981 to 1989. He was the 33rd Governor of California from 1967 to 1975. Reagan was the 9th and 13th President of the Screen Actors Guild, from 1947 to 1952 and again from 1959 to 1960. Reagan was a movie, television and radio actor before he began his career in politics.

Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois. Reagan had a successful career in Hollywood. He was in fifty-three movies. He married actress Jane Wyman in 1940. The couple divorced in 1949. They had three children. Reagan then married Nancy Davis in 1952. They had two children. Their marriage lasted until Reagan's death in 2004.

Before winning his presidental election in 1980, Reagan ran for president two times in 1968 and in 1976. At 73 years old when re-elected in 1984, he is the oldest person elected president of the United States. He is known as the "Great Communicator" because he was a good public speaker. Reagan was also known as the "Teflon president" because any criticism or scandals against him never stuck or affected his popularity. Reagan still remains one of the most popular presidents in American history because of his optimism for the country. Reagan was the first president of the United States to have been divorced.

Reagan was inaugurated in January 1981. As president, Reagan helped create a new political and economic idea. He created the supply-side economic policies. It was later called Reaganomics. Reagan's economic policy lowered tax rates. It created an economic growth and lowered inflation. In his first term he also survived an assassination attempt. Reagan also declared a War on Drugs. Reagan ordered an invasion of Grenada to end a Communist coup.

He was re-elected in a landslide victory in 1984. During his second term, Reagan worked on ending the Cold War. He also ordered the 1986 bombing of Libya. In 1987, the Reagan administration faced a political scandal. It was the Iran–Contra affair. Reagan worked with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev during his second term. This led to the signing of the INF Treaty. It decreased nuclear weapons in the United States and the Soviet Union. Reagan left office in January 1989.

Reagan was originally a Democrat. In 1962 he changed to the Republican party. He is ranked high in presidential opinion polls.

Reagan died on June 5, 2004 at his Bel Air, Los Angeles home from pneumonia after a ten-year battle with Alzheimer's disease. He was 93 years old.

Early life

Photograph of Ronald Reagan (with "Dutch boy" haircut) Neil Reagan (brother) and Parents Jack and Nelle Reagan - NARA - 198605 (cropped)
Reagan as a toddler, 1914

Reagan was born to Jack and Nelle Reagan on February 6, 1911 in a small apartment building in Tampico, Illinois. He had an older brother named Neil. His father was a Roman Catholic of Irish descent. His mother was a Protestant of English and Scottish descent.

The family moved to different places in Illinois when Reagan was a child. They moved to Monmouth, Galesburg, and Chicago. His family finally settled in Dixon, Illinois. They lived in a small house in Dixon. His family was very poor. Reagan did not have much as a child. In high school, Reagan enjoyed acting. Reagan was athletic. He became a lifeguard and saved 77 lives.

Reagan graduated from Eureka College in 1932. He became a sports announcer at news radio station WHO. Reagan was also a broadcaster for the Chicago Cubs. He was good at recreating baseball games. He made them interesting. At this time, the radio station would get only the scores. He was fired for not mentioning the show's sponsors. Reagan was soon re-hired. Station executives could not find anyone as capable as Reagan to re-create baseball games.

Acting career

His first screen credit was the starring role in the 1937 movie Love Is on the Air. He then starred in many movies such as Dark Victory with Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart. Before the movie Santa Fe Trail with Errol Flynn in 1940, he played the role of George "The Gipper" Gipp in the movie Knute Rockne, All American. From his role in the movie, he got the lifelong nickname "the Gipper". In 1941, experts voted him the fifth most popular star from the younger generation in Hollywood.

Ronald Reagan in Cowboy From Brooklyn trailer
Reagan in the Cowboy from Brooklyn trailer, 1938

Reagan's favorite acting role was as a double amputee in 1942's Kings Row. In the movie, he says the line, "Where's the rest of me?" It was later used as the title of his 1965 autobiography. Many movie critics thought Kings Row to be his best movie. Even though the movie was popular, it received bad reviews by New York Times critic Bosley Crowther.

Although Reagan called Kings Row the movie that "made me a star", he was unable to keep up on his success. This was because he was ordered to active duty with the U.S. Army at San Francisco two months after the movie's release.

During World War II, Reagan was separated for four years from his movie career. He served in the First Motion Picture Unit. After the war, Reagan co-starred in such movies such as in, The Voice of the Turtle, John Loves Mary, The Hasty Heart, Bedtime for Bonzo, Cattle Queen of Montana, Juke Girl, This Is the Army, The Winning Team, Tennessee's Partner, and Hellcats of the Navy, in which he worked with his wife, Nancy. Reagan's last movie was a 1964 movie The Killers. Throughout his movie career, his mother, Nelle, often answered much of his fan mail.

Ronald Reagan and General Electric Theater 1954-62
Reagan in a photo for General Electric Theater

Reagan was also a spokesperson. He hosted the General Electric Theater since it was first shown in 1953. He was fired in 1962.

President of the Screen Actors Guild

Reagan was first elected to the board of directors of the Screen Actors Guild in 1941. After World War II, he quickly returned to Screen Actors Guild. Reagan became the 3rd vice-president of the Screen Actors Guild in 1946.

Reagan was nominated in a special election to become president of the Screen Actors Guild. Reagan was elected in 1947. Reagan was re-elected president in 1959. He served only a year before resigning in 1960.

Reagan led the Screen Actors Guild through labor disputes, the Taft–Hartley Act and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings and the Hollywood blacklist era.

FBI informant

During the late 1940s, Reagan and his then-wife Jane Wyman gave the FBI names of actors whom they believed were communists. Reagan even spoke at a special meeting at Congress on communism in Hollywood as well.

Despite not supporting giving out names of actors who were suspected communists. Reagan said:

"Do they expect us to constitute ourselves as a little FBI of our own and determine just who is a Commie and who isn't?"

Entrance into politics

Goldwater-Reagan 1964
Reagan speaking at a campaign ceremony for Goldwater, 1964

Reagan was very active in politics near the end of his acting career. Reagan used to be a Democrat. He strongly supported the New Deal. He admired Franklin D. Roosevelt. Over time, Reagan became a conservative Republican. This was because he felt the federal government had too much power and authority. He made a famous speech speaking out against socialized medicine (government run health care).

Reagan endorsed Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon for the United States presidency. The last time Reagan supported a Democrat was when Helen Gahagan Douglas ran for the United States Senate.

A Time for Choosing

During the 1964 presidential election, Reagan supported Republican candidate Barry Goldwater. He made a famous speech called "A Time for Choosing" to support Goldwater. In the speech he spoke against government programs and high taxes. Even though Goldwater did not win the election, Reagan gained popularity from it. In his speech, Reagan said,

You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness.

After Reagan gave this speech, many businesspeople thought that Reagan could run for Governor of California.

Governor of California, 1967-75

After giving a speech of Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign in 1964, he was persuaded to run for governor. Reagan ran as a Republican against the then governor, Pat Brown during the 1966 gubernatorial election. Reagan won the election with 3,742,913 (57.55%) of the vote while Brown won 2,749,174 (42.27%) of the vote. Reagan was inaugurated on January 2, 1967.

Governor-elect Reagan with wife Nancy celebrating his election to governor in Los Angeles in 1968

During his years as Governor, Reagan stopped hiring government workers. He did this to slow the growth of California's workforce. Reagan also approved tax increases to balance the state budget. Reagan worked with the Democratic Party majority in the state legislature to help create a major reform of the welfare system in 1971. The reform helped give money to the poor and increase the pay of the rich. During his term as governor, Reagan served as the President of the Republican Governors Association from 1968 to 1969. In 1967, Reagan signed an act that did not allow the public carrying loaded guns. In 1968, a petition to force Reagan into a recall election failed.

Reagan ran briefly for president in 1968. He was not nominated by the Republican Party at the 1968 Republican National Convention as Richard Nixon was nominated.

On May 15, 1969, during the People's Park protests at the University of California, Berkeley, Reagan sent the California Highway Patrol and other officers to fight off the protests, in an event that became known as "Bloody Thursday". Reagan then called out 2,200 state National Guard troops to occupy the city of Berkeley for two weeks in order to crack down on the protesters.

Reagan ran for re-election in the 1970 gubernatorial election against assemblyman Jesse M. Unruh. Reagan won 3,439,174 (52.83%) of the vote while Unruh won 2,938,607 (45.14%) of the vote.

During his final term as governor, he played a major role in California's educational system. He raised student loans. This caused a massive protest between Reagan and the college students. Reagan would soon be criticized of his views of the educational system. In 2019, a 1971 audio recording of a conversation between Reagan and President Nixon was released in which Reagan called Africans diplomats at the United Nations "monkeys".

Reagan left office on January 6, 1975 when Jerry Brown, Pat Brown's son, succeeded Reagan as governor.

1976 presidential campaign

Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan at 1976 RNC (02)
Reagan and President Ford on the last day of the 1976 Republican National Convention

In 1976, Reagan said he would run against President Gerald Ford to become the Republican Party's candidate for president. Reagan soon became the conservative candidate with the support of organizations such as the American Conservative Union, which became key supporters of his political run, while Ford was considered a more moderate Republican.

During his 1976 campaign, Reagan controversially used the pejorative phrase "welfare queen" to describe Linda Taylor who illegally misused her welfare benefits in 1974. He used Taylor and her criminals activities to defend his criticisms about social programs in the United States.

Reagan selected United States Senator Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania as his running mate.

Reagan won a few primaries early such as North Carolina, Texas and California, but soon failed to win key primaries such as New Hampshire, Florida, and his native Illinois.

During the 1976 GOP convention, Ford won the nomination with 1,187 delegates to Reagan's 1,070. Ford would go on to lose the 1976 presidential election to the Democratic nominee, Jimmy Carter.

Though he lost the nomination, Reagan got 307 write-in votes in New Hampshire, 388 votes as an Independent on Wyoming's ballot, and a single electoral vote from general election from the state of Washington.

1980 presidential campaign

In November 1979, Reagan announced his plans to run for president again in the 1980 presidential election against incumbent President Jimmy Carter. His campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again", was heavily used in the 1980 election and in Reagan's 1984 re-election campaign. The slogan would be used by Presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump in their presidential campaigns. Reagan faced primary challenges from former Director George H. W. Bush, United States representatives John B. Anderson and Phil Crane, United States senators Bob Dole, Howard Baker, Larry Pressler and Lowell P. Weicker, Jr., Governor Harold Stassen, former Treasury Secretary John Connally and to Republican executive Ben Fernandez. In May 1980, Reagan won enough delegates to win the Republican Party nomination. At the 1980 Republican National Convention, Reagan named Bush as his running mate.

Reagan's presidential campaign focused on lowering taxes to grow the economy, less government in people's lives, states' rights, and a strong national defense.

His relaxed and confident appearance during the televised Reagan-Carter debate on October 28, grew his popularity, and helped to expand his lead in the polls.

On November 4, Reagan won the election winning 44 states and 489 electoral votes, to Carter's 49 electoral votes from six states plus the District of Columbia. He won the popular vote by a larger margin, winning 50.7% to Carter's 41.0%, with independent John B. Anderson winning 6.6%.

Presidency, 1981–89

First term, 1981–85

The Reagans waving from the limousine during the Inaugural Parade 1981
The Reagans waving from the limousine during the Inaugural Parade, 1981

Reagan was first sworn in as president on January 20, 1981. In his inaugural address (which Reagan himself wrote), he talked about the country's economic problems, arguing:

In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem.

School prayer and moment of silence

In 1981, Reagan became the first president to propose a constitutional amendment on school prayer. In 1985, Reagan expressed his disappointment that the Supreme Court ruling still bans a moment of silence for public schools, and said he had "an uphill battle." In 1987 Reagan renewed his call for Congress to support voluntary prayer in schools and end "the expulsion of God from America's classrooms." People who did not support this said it is not right for any government force to be included in schools.

Assassination attempt

President Ronald Reagan moments before he was shot in an assassination attempt 1981
Reagan walking to his limousine moments before being shot by John Hinckley

Reagan was nearly killed in an assassination attempt that happened on Monday, March 30, 1981. 69 days after becoming President, he was leaving after a speaking engagement at the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. He was shot by John Hinckley. Hinckley shot six bullets.

White House Press Secretary James Brady was shot in the head. Brady later recovered, but was paralyzed. Two other bullets shot officer Thomas Delahanty in the back, also paralyzing him, and Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy in the chest. McCarthy took a bullet for Reagan. No one was killed during the event.

Reagan was taken to the George Washington University Hospital, which was nearest hospital from the hotel and White House. He suffered a punctured lung and a broken rib bone. He lost about 3/4 of his blood. Reagan soon made a fast recovery after doctors performed surgery. It was later said that the bullet was one inch away from his heart.

This made Reagan the only President of the United States to have been shot and survive afterwards.


Ronald Reagan televised address from the Oval Office, outlining plan for Tax Reduction Legislation July 1981
Reagan gives a televised address from the Oval Office about his economic plan, Reaganomics, July 1981

Reagan believed that the government should be small, not big. This means that the government should not interfere in people's lives very much or interfere with what businesses do. He believed in supply-side economics, which was also called Reaganomics and Voodoo economics (by people who didn't like it) during his term. He lowered everybody's income taxes by 25% and cut spending in many government departments.

He also lowered inflation from 14% to 4% and he vetoed 78 bills. Reagan's economic plan resulted in a bad economy during the year 1982, but the economy turned around in 1983. The economy soon recovered. Reagan called it "Morning in America". During his presidency the United States declared a "War on Drugs".

Air traffic controllers' strike

In the summer of 1981, the union of federal air traffic controllers went on strike. They broke a federal law that does not allow government unions from striking. Reagan said that if the air traffic controllers "do not report for work within 48 hours, they have forfeited their jobs and will be terminated". They did not return and on August 5, Reagan fired 11,359 striking air traffic controllers who had ignored his order, and used supervisors and military controllers to handle the nation's commercial air traffic until new controllers could be hired and trained.

Visit to USS Constellation (CV-64)

On August 20, 1981, Reagan was the honorable guest of Captain Dennis Brooks, commanding officer of the USS Constellation (CV-64). President Reagan arrived on the USS Constellation (CV-64) by helicopter. He spoke to the ship's crew, ate lunch with them and watched a United States Navy tactical display at sea.

President Reagan then re-enlisted some US Navy personnel. He then was introduced to Special Agent Craig Goodwin of the Naval Investigative Service (NIS). He was the Special Agent who was assigned aboard the USS Constellation (CV-64). Special Agent Goodwin was later awarded one of the highest civilian medals for his intelligence work, the Meritorious Civilian Service Medal.

Evil empire

Photograph of President Reagan addressing the Annual Convention of the National Association of Evangelicals( "Evil... - NARA - 198535
Reagan addressing the National Association of Evangelicals, 1983

Reagan's "Evil empire" speech was delivered to the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Florida on March 8, 1983. It is his first recorded use of the phrase. Speaking about the nuclear arms race he said that the Soviet Union as evil.

Lebanese Civil War (1983)

In 1983, Reagan sent forces to Lebanon to stop the threat of the Lebanese Civil War. On October 23, 1983, a group of American forces in Beirut were attacked. The Beirut barracks bombing killed 241 American servicemen and wounded more than 60 others by a suicide truck bomber. Reagan withdrew all the Marines from Lebanon.

Korean Air Lines Flight 007

In September 1983, Korean Air Lines Flight 007 was shot down by the Soviet Union. It killed one politician and many more Americans. Reagan was angry at the Soviets. Reagan addressed the nation. As a result, Reagan proposed that the American military's GPS would be allowed for civilian use.

Reagan and George Shultz meets with Prime Minister Eugenia Charles of Dominica in the Oval Office about the events in Grenada, November 1983

Operation Urgent Fury (Grenada, 1983)

On October 25, 1983, Reagan ordered U.S. forces to invade Grenada, code named Operation Urgent Fury. Reagan said that there was a "regional threat posed by a Soviet-Cuban military build-up in the Caribbean" in Grenada.

Operation Urgent Fury was the first major military operation done by U.S. forces since the Vietnam War. Some days of fighting started, but it resulted in a U.S. victory. In mid-December, U.S. forces withdrew from Grenada after a new form of government was created there.

MLK Day (1983)

Reagan originally did not support making Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a national holiday, because of cost concerns. But on November 2, 1983, Reagan signed a bill to create a federal holiday honoring King. The bill had passed the Senate by a count of 78 to 22 and the House of Representatives by 338 to 90. The holiday was observed for the first time on January 20, 1986. It is observed on the third Monday of January.

1984 re-election campaign

Reagan The Gipper
Reagan campaigning for his re-election campaign in Endicott, New York

Reagan was once again nominated for president at the 1984 Republican National Convention. His Democratic opponent, was former Vice President Walter Mondale of Minnesota.

During the first presidential debate, many said Reagan lost the debate and there were rumors about Reagan's health citing his confusion on stage. Many thought Reagan was showing the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. In the second debate, Reagan improved his performance and when asked about questions of his age, he said:

I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience.

Reagan's statement made the entire audience laugh including from moderators and Mondale himself. Reagan also repeated his 1980 debate phrase: "There you go again".

Reagan was re-elected in 1984 in a landslide victory. Reagan won 49 out of the 50 states. He carried more electoral votes than any other president in American history.

Second term, 1985-89

President Reagan being sworn in for second term during the private ceremony held at the White House 1985
Reagan being inaugurated as president at the White House, January 1985

Reagan was sworn in as president once again on January 20, 1985 at the White House this time due to cold weather. In the coming weeks, he changed his staff by moving White House Chief of Staff James Baker to Secretary of the Treasury and naming Treasury Secretary Donald Regan to Chief of Staff.

Cold War and Soviet relations

Reagan became friends with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Margaret Thatcher. Both of them held meetings about the Soviet Union's threat and how to end the Cold War. Reagan became the first American president to ever address the British Parliament.

Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev
Reagan with Mikhail Gorbachev at the Reykjavík Summit, October 1986

In foreign policy, Reagan ended detente (the policy of being friendly to the Soviet Union) by ordering the largest peacetime military buildup in American history. The U.S. government had to borrow a lot of money to pay for it. He had many new weapons built. Soon, the U.S. began to research on a missile defense system which would destroy missiles. It was to prevent a nuclear war from happening. The program was called Strategic Defense Initiative. It was nicked named "Star Wars".

He directed money to anti-communist movements all over the world that wanted to overthrow their communist government. He ordered multiple military operations including the invasion of Grenada and the Libya bombing.

In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev became the new leader of the Soviet Union (which was in bad shape and soon to collapse). Reagan had many talks with him. Their first meeting together was at the Reykjavík Summit in Iceland. They became good friends.

The War on Drugs

Reagan announced a War on Drugs in 1982, because of concerns about the increasing number of people using crack. Even though Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs during the 1970s, Reagan used more militant policies.

In 1986, Reagan signed a drug enforcement bill that budgeted $1.7 billion to fund the War on Drugs. It created a mandatory minimum penalty for drug offenses. The bill was criticized for created racial inequalities and mass imprisonment of African-Americans. As a result, First Lady Nancy Reagan created her "Just Say No" campaign to promote anti-drug usage to children.

Libya bombing

Libya Bombing Reagan Meeting 14 March 1986
Reagan meeting with members of the United States Congress about plans to attack Libya after the bombings, April 1986

During the Reagan presidency, relations between Libya and the United States were mixed. In early April 1986, relations were escalated when a bomb exploded in a Berlin discothèque. It resulted in the injury of 63 American military personnel and death of one serviceman. In the late evening of April 15, 1986, the United States launched many attacks in Libya.

The UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher allowed the U.S. Air Force to use Britain's air bases to launch the attack, only if that the UK was supporting America's right to self-defense supported by the United Nations. The attack was done to stop Gaddafi's "ability to export terrorism", offering him "incentives and reasons to alter his criminal behavior". The president addressed the nation from the Oval Office after the attacks started, he said

When our citizens are attacked or abused anywhere in the world on the direct orders of hostile regimes, we will respond so long as I'm in this office.

Many countries and the United Nations did not like Reagan's decision to bomb Libya. The United Nations said that Reagan violated "the Charter of the United Nations and of international law".

Iran-Contra affair

President Ronald Reagan receives the Tower Commission Report with John Tower and Edmund Muskie
Reagan listens to the Tower Report with John Tower and Edmund Muskie at the White House, February 1987

Reagan's reputation was badly hurt by the political scandal Iran-Contra Affair. The government illegally sold weapons to Iran. It later used the profits to support a Nicaraguan terrorist group called the Contras. Reagan told the American people he didn't know anything about the scandal. Reagan funded the Contras to fight off the Communist regime of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, but when it became too expensive, Congress made it illegal to pay the Contras. As a result, the scandal at the center of the affair and the cover up was using illegal profits to break the law a second time by supporting terrorists.

His United States National Security Advisor John Poindexter was charged with multiple felonies and later resigned. Reagan later nominated former Ambassador Frank Carlucci to replace Poindexter. His Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger was thought to be guilty, but resigned before a trial could begin. Reagan later nominated Carlucci to serve as Defense Secretary for the rest of his term. Oliver North, a member of the United States National Security Council, resigned and was indicted for his involvement in the affair. In February 1987, White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan also resigned because of an ongoing feud between Regan and First Lady Reagan about his handling of the affair.

Soon, he told the American people that it was his fault. After Reagan told the truth, he became more popular. In his apology, Reagan said,

Let's start with the part that is the most controversial. A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.

In the end, fourteen administration officials were indicted and eleven convictions resulted, some of which were vacated on appeal. The rest of those indicted or convicted were all pardoned by President George H. W. Bush, who had been Vice President at the time of the affair.

Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act

In the 1980s, apartheid in South Africa was becoming more violent and a global issue. The Democrats in the Senate tried to pass the Anti-Apartheid Act in September 1985, but could not overcome a Republican filibuster. Reagan saw it as an act to lower his authority to plan foreign policy. He created own set of sanctions, but Democrats saw them to be "watered down and ineffective".

The bill was re-introduced in 1986 and brought up for a vote despite Republican efforts to block it to give Reagan's sanctions time to work. It passed the House with Reagan publicly against it. Later the Senate approved of the bill with a 84-14 vote.

On September 26, 1986, Reagan vetoed the bill saying that it would cause an "economic war". Republican Senator Richard Lugar led the Senate of override Reagan's veto. The veto was reverse by Congress (by the Senate 78 to 21, the House by 313 to 83) on October 2. The veto override was the first one on a presidential foreign policy veto in the 20th century.

In response to the veto override, Reagan said:

I believe, are not the best course of action; they hurt the very people they are intended to help. My hope is that these punitive sanctions do not lead to more violence and more repression. Our administration will, nevertheless, implement the law.

Space Shuttle Challenger

Reagans attend Challenger memorial service
The Reagans at a memorial service for the Challenger crew, 1986

In 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded killing everyone on board. The entire country was shocked. Reagan postponed his 1986 State of the Union Address as a result of the tragedy. It was the first time that a President of the United States postponed a State of the Union Address. Afterwards, Reagan addressed the nation. Reagan famously said,

We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of Earth' to 'touch the face of God'.

Immigration Reform

In November 1986, Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act. It helped some immigrants to get jobs and become legal citizens. In that same year, the Statue of Liberty was just re-opened after being renovated. Reagan was at the opening ceremony when he said,

The legalization provisions in this act will go far to improve the lives of a class of individuals who now must hide in the shadows, without access to many of the benefits of a free and open society. Very soon many of these men and women will be able to step into the sunlight and, ultimately, if they choose, they may become Americans.

Supreme Court nominations

During his 1980 campaign, Reagan promised that, if elected, he would nominate the first female Supreme Court Associate Justice. On July 7, 1981, he nominated Sandra Day O'Connor to replace the retiring Justice Potter Stewart. Reagan said of O'Connor:

[O'Connor] is truly a person for all qualities, having those unique qualities of patience, fairness, intelligent, and devotion to the public good. I commend her to you, and I urge the Senate's swift bipartisan confirmation so that as soon as possible she may take her seat on the Court and her place in history.

O'Connor was confirmed by the United States Senate with a vote of 99–0.

In his second term in 1986, Reagan nominated William Rehnquist to replace Warren E. Burger as Chief Justice. He named Antonin Scalia to fill the empty seat left by Rehnquist.

After Associate Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. announced his retirement in June 1987, Reagan nominated conservative jurist Robert Bork to replace him in 1987. Senator Ted Kennedy was strongly against Bork. Kennedy accused Bork of not being strong on states', civil or women's rights.

Bork's nomination was rejected by the United States Senate with a vote of 58–42. Reagan then nominated Douglas H. Ginsburg, but Ginsburg withdrew his name from consideration. Reagan later nominated Anthony Kennedy to replace Powell, Jr. and was confirmed with a vote of 97–0.

Berlin Wall

In 1987, Reagan travelled to Berlin to give a speech at the Berlin Wall. That is where he gave one of his greatest speeches of his presidency. Referring to the Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin Wall he said,

We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev...Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

Civil Liberties Act of 1988

In January 1987, U.S. Representative Tom Foley introduced the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 to Congress as a way to give reparation to Japanese-Americans who were interned by the United States during World War II. It passed the House in September 1987 and was sent to the Senate were it was passed in April 1988.

Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act into law on August 10, 1988 granting USD $20,000 with payments beginning in 1990. A total of 82,219 Japanese-Americans received checks.

End of the Cold War

During his term as president, Reagan saw the change in the direction of the Soviet leadership with Mikhail Gorbachev. Months after his Berlin Wall speech, Gorbachev announced his plans to work with Reagan for a big arms agreements. Reagan and Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty which banned nuclear weapons being launched between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Reagan farewell salute
Reagan says goodbye on Marine One shortly after George H. W. Bush was inaugurated president, January 1989

When Reagan visited Moscow for the fourth summit in 1988, he was seen as a celebrity by the Soviets. A journalist asked the president if he still considered the Soviet Union the evil empire. "No", he replied, "I was talking about another time, another era". In November 1989, ten months after Reagan left office, the Berlin Wall was torn down, the Cold War was officially declared over at the Malta Summit on December 3, 1989, and two years later, the Soviet Union collapsed.

End of the Reagan presidency

Reagan left office with high rankings on January 20, 1989 when his Vice President George H. W. Bush became president. Reagan and his wife, Nancy, soon returned home in Bel Air, Los Angeles, California. In the years after he left office, Reagan's time in office was seen as one of the best and is compared to that of Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.

Post-presidency, 1989-2004

Public speaking

Reagans early 1990s
Ronald and Nancy Reagan in 1992 in Los Angeles after leaving the presidency.
GHW Bush presents Reagan Presidential Medal of Freedom 1993
Former President Ronald Reagan returns to the White House to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George H. W. Bush in 1993

After leaving office, Reagan and his wife Nancy lived in Bel Air, Los Angeles. They also visited their ranch, Rancho del Cielo. Reagan gave a speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention giving his support for Bush's re-election campaign in the 1992 presidential election.

In November 1991, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library was dedicated and opened to the public in Simi Valley, California.

In June 1989, Reagan was honored with Honorary Knighthood and received the Order of the Bath presented by Queen Elizabeth II. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1993 by President George H. W. Bush. He was the first former living president to receive the honor. Soon afterwards the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation created the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award for people who made a big change for freedom.

In 1990, Reagan wrote an autobiography titled, An American Life.

Even after when he left office, Reagan had a close friendship with both Thatcher and Gorbachev. They would often visit him at his home.

In May 1994, Reagan, along with former presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, wrote to the U.S. House of Representatives in support of banning "semi-automatic assault guns."


On April 13, 1992, Reagan was assaulted by an anti-nuclear protester during a speech while accepting an award from the National Association of Broadcasters in Las Vegas. The protester was Richard Paul Springer. He smashed a 2-foot-high (60 cm) 30-pound (13.5 kg) crystal statue of an eagle that the broadcasters had given to Reagan. Pieces of glass hit Reagan, but he was not injured.

Springer was the founder of an anti-nuclear group called the 100th Monkey. Following his arrest on assault charges, a Secret Service spokesman did not say how Springer got past the agents. Later, Springer pled guilty to the federal charge of interfering with the Secret Service, but other felony charges of assault and fighting against officers were dropped.

Health issues

Early in his presidency, Reagan started wearing a hearing aid, first in his right ear and later in his left as well. In 1985, he had colon cancer and skin cancer removed at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. In 1987, Reagan had surgery to remove polyp of the nose. Also in that year, Reagan went into surgery for an enlarged prostate.

In 1994, Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

On November 5, 1994, Reagan wrote a public letter about having Alzheimer's disease, writing:

I have recently been told that I am one of the millions of Americans who will be afflicted with Alzheimer's Disease... At the moment I feel just fine. I intend to live the remainder of the years God gives me on this earth doing the things I have always done... I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead. Thank you, my friends. May God always bless you.

Reagan and Gorbachev in western hats 1992
Reagan with Gorbachev at Reagan's ranch, Rancho del Cielo, 1992
Five presidents
The Reagans (center) in Richard Nixon's state funeral, 1994

After announcing his disease, many people sent supporting letters to his California home. There was also an opinion based on unfinished evidence that Reagan had showed symptoms of mental decline while still in office.

In 1995, the Ronald and Nancy Reagan Research Institute was dedicated in Chicago, Illinois. It is an institution that can help people with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

Reagan fell at his Bel Air home on January 13, 2001. He broke his hip. The fracture was repaired the next day. Reagan, 89 years old, returned home later that week, but he then had to do difficult physical therapy at home.

White House correspondent memoirs

In her memoirs, former CBS White House correspondent Lesley Stahl remembers about her final meeting with the president in 1986,

Reagan didn't seem to know who I was. ... Oh, my, he's gonzo, I thought. I have to go out on the lawn tonight and tell my countrymen that the president of the United States is a doddering space cadet.

But then, at the end, he regained his alertness. As she described it,

I had come that close to reporting that Reagan was senile.

Final years

As the years went on, the Alzheimer's disease slowly destroyed Reagan's mental capacity. He was only able to recognize a few people, including his wife, Nancy. He remained active during his last years. He took walks through parks near his home and on beaches, played golf regularly, and until 1999 he often went to his office in nearby Century City.

Reagans with USS Ronald Reagan model 1996
The Reagans with a model of the USS Ronald Reagan with CEO William Frick, May 1996

On February 6, 2001, Reagan reached the age of 90, becoming the third former president to do so (the other two being John Adams and Herbert Hoover, with Gerald Ford, George H. W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter later reaching 90).

Reagan's public appearances became much less frequent with the progression of the disease. His family decided that he would live in quiet semi-isolation with his wife Nancy. Nancy Reagan told CNN's Larry King in 2001 that very few visitors were allowed to see her husband because she felt that "Ronnie would want people to remember him as he was." In that same year, Reagan's daughter, Maureen Reagan, died from melanoma at the age of 60.

The USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) was finished in 2001. A ceremony was held in March 2001. Reagan's wife, Nancy lead the ceremony. She christened the ship. Reagan could not go because he was very sick.

Following her husband's diagnosis and death, Nancy became a stem-cell research advocate. She urged Congress and President George W. Bush to support federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. President Bush opposed the idea. In 2009, she praised President Barack Obama for lifting restrictions on such research. Mrs. Reagan believed that it could lead to a cure for Alzheimer's. Nancy died on March 6, 2016 at the age of 94.

Death and funeral

On June 5, 2004, Reagan died at the age of 93 of pneumonia, caused by Alzheimer's disease, in his home in Bel Air, Los Angeles, California. A short time after his death, Nancy Reagan released a statement saying, "My family and I would like the world to know that President Ronald Reagan has died after 10 years of Alzheimer's disease at 93 years of age. We appreciate everyone's prayers."

Reagan's casket lies in state June 9 '04 (cropped)
Reagan's casket lying in state in the United States Capitol Rotunda on June 9, 2004

Reagan was granted a state funeral. Reagan's state funeral was the first in the United States since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1973. It was held at the Washington National Cathedral on June 11 and presided by former Missouri United States senator John Danforth. President George W. Bush and former presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton went to the funeral. First Lady Laura Bush and former first ladies Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, and Barbara Bush also went.

Grabmal von Ronald und Nancy Reagan
The Reagans are buried at a tomb in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

Former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson did not go to the funeral because of poor health. Reverend Billy Graham, who was Reagan's first choice to lead the funeral, could not go because he was recovering from surgery. Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor also went to the funeral and delivered a passage from the Bible. The funeral was led by Reagan's close friend and pastor Michael Wenning.

Foreign leaders also went to Reagan's funeral, Mikhail Gorbachev, Prime Minister of United Kingdom Tony Blair, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and interim presidents Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Ghazi al-Yawer of Iraq. Former Prime Minister of United Kingdom Margaret Thatcher, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and both former President George H. W. Bush and President George W. Bush gave eulogies.

Reagan was buried later that day in an underground vault at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. His tomb reads,

I know in my heart that man is good. That what is right will always eventually triumph. And that there is purpose and worth to each and every life.


Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan aboard a boat in California 1964
Ronald and Nancy Reagan in California in 1964

Reagan met Jane Wyman while filming Brother Rat in 1938. He asked Wyman to marry him at the Chicago Theatre. They were married on January 20, 1940 in Glendale, California. They had two children: Michael (adopted) and Maureen Reagan. They had a third child, Christine Reagan, but she was stillborn. With Reagan's growing political career and the death of their child, Wyman filled for divorce in 1948. The divorce was final in 1949.

In 1949, months after divorcing Wyman, Reagan met Nancy Davis. Davis was an actress who was accidentally listed as a communist and asked Reagan to help. After Reagan helped Davis, the two began dating. Three years later, Reagan asked Davis to marry him in Beverly Hills, California. They were married on March 4, 1952 in Hollywood, California. Together, they had two children: Ron and Patti Reagan.

Wyman died of natural causes on September 10, 2010. She was aged 90. Nancy outlived her husband by eleven years. She died on March 6, 2016 of heart failure. She was aged 94.


In 2000, Ronald and Nancy Reagan received the Congressional Gold Medal in "recognition for their service to their nation".

In August 2004, a tribute to Reagan was shown at the 2004 Republican National Convention presented by his son, Michael Reagan.

In June 2007, Reagan received the Order of the White Eagle from Poland's president, Lech Kaczyński, for Reagan's work to end communism in Poland. Nancy Reagan travelled to Warsaw to accept the award for her husband.

Ronald Reagan Coin
Reagan on the 2016 edition of the Presidential $1 Coin Program

On June 3, 2009, a statue of Reagan was added in the United States Capitol rotunda. The statue represents the state of California in the National Statuary Hall Collection. Following Reagan's death, both major American political parties agreed to place a statue of Reagan instead of that of Thomas Starr King.

Also in June 2009, President Obama signed the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act into law. It created a commission to plan activities to mark the upcoming centenary of Reagan's 100 birthday.

On July 4, 2011, a statue of Reagan was presented in London. It is outside of the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square. The ceremony was supposed to be attended by Reagan's wife Nancy, but she did not attend. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took her place and read a statement from her. British Prime Minister during Reagan's presidency, Baroness Thatcher, was also unable to attend due to poor health.

A statue of Reagan was presented in November 2011 in Warsaw, Poland. President of Poland Lech Wałęsa was there.

In 2011, Reagan was added to the National Radio Hall of Fame.

Since 2011, February 6 has been known as Ronald Reagan Day in 21 states across the United States in honor of his birthday.

In 2016, Ronald and Nancy Reagan were honored in the Presidential $1 Coin Program in August 2016. He was the last president honored in the program.

In August 2017, Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta honored Reagan at the Labor Hall of Honor as the 2017 edition to the monument.

Culture portrayal

In the 1991 crime/thriller movie Point Break, a face-mask of Reagan is worn by the leader (Patrick Swayze) of the "Ex-Presidents", gang of robbers who wear face-masks of former Presidents during bank robberies.

Alan Rickman Dec 2009 cropped lighting corrected
Late British actor Alan Rickman played Reagan in The Butler (2014)

In the 2000 psychological horror movie American Psycho, Reagan was discussed towards the end of the movie as to whether he is a psychopath or an innocent old man in regards to the Iran-Contra affair.

In 2001, Richard Crenna played Reagan in the Oliver Stone television movie The Day Reagan Was Shot. In 2007, the edited version of his diary was published entitled The Reagan Diaries. It became the New York Times Best Seller.

Voice actor Hank Azaria voiced Reagan three times (1993, 1994, and 2012) in The Simpsons. Harry Shearer said that Simpsons character Mr. Burns is inspired by Reagan. Seth MacFarlane voiced Reagan in American Dad! and on Family Guy for special episodes.

During the history of Saturday Night Live, Reagan has been played by Phil Hartman, Randy Quaid and Robin Williams. In a 2010 short comedy video, Presidential Reunion, actor Jim Carrey played the spirit of Reagan trying to speak to Barack Obama about bank companies and the media.

In 2014, Reagan was played by British actor Alan Rickman in Lee Daniels' The Butler.

In 2015, Bill O'Reilly published Killing Reagan, the fifth book of his Killing series. It covers the assassination attempt on Reagan in March 1981. A year later, National Geographic Society announced they were making a television movie based on the book. Killing Reagan was premiered on National Geographic on October 16, 2016, with actor Tim Matheson playing Reagan. In late 2015, actor Bruce Campbell played Reagan in the second season of Fox's criminal suspense drama series Fargo.

In March 2018, it was confirmed that actor Dennis Quaid would play Reagan in an upcoming movie, titled Reagan, which will be based on Reagan's life. David Henrie will play a younger Reagan in the movie.

In October 2018, the Reagan library publicly launched three Reagan holographs: one where Reagan is in the Oval Office, one where he is in a train during his 1984 campaign and one at his Rancho del Cielo.

Old footage of Reagan and his likeness was used for the 2020 first-person shooter video game Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War.


Reagan, by public opinion, is one of the most popular American presidents. His legacy is strongly admired among many conservatives and Republicans. Those who do admire Reagan are sometimes called Reagan coalitionists.

President Reagan speaking in Minneapolis 1982
Reagan in Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1982

According to USA Today, "Reagan transformed the American presidency in ways that only a few have been able to." His role in the Cold War made his image more popular as a different kind of leader as both Reagan and Gorbachev wanted to end nuclear tensions and the war.

Reagan ranked third of post–World War II presidents in a 2007 Rasmussen Reports poll, fifth in an ABC 2000 poll, ninth in another 2007 Rasmussen poll, and eighth in a late 2008 poll by British newspaper The Times. In 2011, British historians released a survey to rate American presidents. This poll of British experts in American history and politics said that Reagan is the eighth greatest American president.

Reagan was the oldest president up to that time and was supported by young voters, who began to support the Republican party as a result.

Reagan is even admired by people of the opposite party, the Democratic Party. Democrats who support Reagan are called Reagan Democrats. His presidency is sometimes called the Reagan Era because of the changes it brought during Reagan's time as president. In his home state of California, Reagan is seen as a hero. Reagan is known for his witty charm and his warm optimism.

The legacy of his economic policies is still divided between people who believe that the government should be smaller and those who believe the government should take a more active role in regulating the economy. While some of his foreign policies were controversial, many thank Reagan for peacefully ending the Cold War.

Related pages

Coat of Arms of Ronald Reagan
Coat of arms of Reagan

Images for kids

kids search engine
Ronald Reagan Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.