Ronald Wilson Reagan was born on February 6, 1911 in Tampico, Illinois. He attended Eureka College, where he studied economics and sociology. He also played football and was part of the school's theatre group. In 1937, Reagan had a screen test which won him a contract in Hollywood. Over the next twenty years, he appeared in 53 films.
In 1940, Reagan married his first wife, Jane Wyman, an actress. Together they had two children, Maureen and Michael. They also had a daughter, Christine, who died shortly after birth. In 1948, Jane and Ronald divorced. On March 4, 1952, Reagan married actress Nancy Davis. They also had two children together, Patti and Ron.
As a young man, Reagan was a Democrat and an avid supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal. However, after becoming President of the Screen Actors Guild, his views began to change. He believed Hollywood was being infiltrated by Communists, and reported suspicious activities to the FBI under the code name "Agent T-10". He even claimed the basis of the New Deal was fascism. Although he still called himself a Democrat, he supported Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon for election. In the fall of 1962, he officially changed his party registration from Democrat to Republican. He was later quoted as saying, "I didn't leave the Democratic Party. My party left me."
In 1966, Reagan was elected as the 33rd governor of California, where he served two terms. As governor, Reagan signed the California Welfare Reform Act, worked to keep the death penalty in California, and also promoted the dismantling of the public psychiatric hospital system. He believed community based programs would do more to help the problem.
Reagan's first campaign for President was in 1968, and he was defeated. His second attempt in 1976 was also unsuccessful, as he lost to incumbent Gerald Ford. However, Reagan's chance came in 1980 when he did receive the nomination from the Republican Party. The election took place during the Iran Hostage Crisis, which was being poorly handled by the Carter administration. At the end of a televised debate, Reagan asked the public, "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?" Reagan went on to be elected as the 40th President of the United States of America, and served two terms.
Reagan's main focus his first year in office was to fix the fledgling economy that Carter's administration had left behind. He would have to deal with double digit inflation, 20% interest rates, and 8 million unemployed citizens. Workers also faced a 5% decrease in hourly wages, while federal personal taxes had increased 67%. The national deficit was also approaching $1 trillion. Reagan instituted a tight-money policy to reduce the inflation, and this led to a recession in July 1981. By 1983 the economy had begun to recover. The administration claimed that tax cuts had helped to revive the economy.
During the Reagan administration, inflation rates dropped from 13.7% to 4.1%. Over sixteen million jobs were added to the workforce, and unemployment rates dropped from 7.5% to 5.3%. Reagan believed in "peace through strength", when dealing with foreign policy. During his two terms as President, he increased defense spending by 35%. He also took the first steps towards a resolution of the Cold War. Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev signed a treaty that agreed that both countries would dismantle some of their nuclear weapons.
Reagan did have some problems during his administration. The Iran-Contra scandal broke in 1986. After the Democrats took control of the Senate, it came out that the government traded weapons for hostages. Reagan first denied any involvement, but then said ultimately he should be held accountable for what happened.
President Reagan also survived an assassination attempt by John Hinckley, Jr. on March 30, 1981. The bullet hit his left lung, missing his heart by one inch. Before he went into surgery, he joked with the surgeons saying, "I hope you're all Republicans." Hinckley, Jr. was recreating a scene from the film Taxi Driver, hoping his stunt would win him the love of actress Jodie Foster.
After serving two terms as President, Ronald Reagan, "The Great Communicator", retired to his estate, Rancho del Cielo, in Santa Barbara, California. He eventually moved to a new home in Los Angeles. On November 5, 1994, he wrote a letter to the American public telling them that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. On June 5, 2004, Ronald Reagan passed away at the age of 93.
Article written by Brianne Knaus