Childhood & Early Life
Ronald Wilson Reagan was born on February 6, 1911, in Tampico, Illinois, USA, to John Edward ‘Jack’ Reagan and Nelle Wilson Reagan. He had an elder brother named Neil. Thanks to his Dutchman-like appearance, Reagan was fondly called ‘Dutch,’ a nickname that stayed with him throughout his youth.
He completed his preliminary education from ‘Dixon High School,’ post which he got a scholarship to study economics and sociology at ‘Eureka College.’ While he was academically proficient, his performance as an athlete and actor won him the chair of the president of the student body.
Upon completing his graduation in 1932, he worked as a radio sports announcer in Iowa, after which he was hired by ‘WHO’ radio. In 1937, a screen test with the ‘Warner Brothers’ led to his signing a contract with the company.
In his three-decade long Hollywood career, he acted in several movies. Though he initially found himself acting in ‘B-films,’ his performance was appreciated by audience and critics alike. His most popular movies were ‘Knute Rockne, All American’ and ‘Kings Row.’
Meanwhile, he enlisted himself in the ‘Army Enlisted Reserve’ in 1937 and was called for duty in 1942. Due to his near-sightedness, he was only eligible for limited service in the ‘Army Air Forces’ (AAF). He was soon promoted to the position of first lieutenant and later captain. In 1945, he was called off active duty.
From 1947 until 1952, he served as the president of ‘Screen Actors Guild.’ He once again served as the president in 1959. He took to television and served as the host in the show ‘General Electric Theatre.’ He then went on to host a show titled ‘Death Valleys Days.’
Continue Reading Below
It was during his years as a television host that his ideology shifted from that of a liberal to a conservative. He entered the political limelight in 1964 with his speech favoring Republican candidate Barry Goldwater.
In 1966, he ran for the post of the governor of California and eventually ended up winning the same by almost one million votes. He was re-elected for a second term in 1970, which he served until January 1975.
Establishing himself as a ‘Republican Party’ conservative candidate, he contested the 1980 presidential election. The result of the election was spell-binding as he convincingly defeated Democratic President Jimmy Carter, gaining 50.7 percent of the popular votes.
He was sworn in as the president of the USA on January 20, 1981. In his inaugural speech, he called for a renewal of the nation and the government, which he designated to be ‘the problem’ instead of being the ‘problem-solver.’
In an assassination attempt by John Hinckley Jr., Reagan was shot and wounded on the 69th day of office when he was moving out of the ‘Washington Hilton Hotel.’ He recovered after undergoing an emergency surgery, becoming the first US president to survive an assassination attempt after being shot.
During his term, he brought about numerous social, economic, domestic, and international policies. He enhanced the military budget, reduced the expense of certain social programs, such as ‘Medicaid,’ ‘food stamps,’ and federal education programs, and de-regulated businesses. He brought an end to the price controls on domestic oils which led to an unhindered supply of energy in the 1980s.
In an attempt to revive the American economy, he proposed the lowering of marginal tax rates which eventually led to increased investment, increased economic growth, and higher employment and wages. His economic policies led to the revival of the nation’s economy in 1983 which marked the beginning of the seven glorious years of economic prosperity.
As for foreign policy, ‘Cold War’ was the most pressing issue during his first term as the president. To protect the country from the Soviet Empire, he ordered a build-up of weapons and troops. Additionally, he introduced the ‘Reagan Doctrine,’ which provided aid to anti-communist movements in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Furthermore, he wanted to develop space-based weapons to protect America from Soviet nuclear missiles.
His attempt to maintain peace in Lebanon was futile as the US Marine barracks at Beirut were attacked by suicide bombers which led to the death of 241 Americans. To retaliate, he ordered the invasion of the Caribbean island of Grenada.
Continue Reading Below
In the 1984 presidential election, he won against the Democratic candidate Walter Mondale in a landslide victory, gaining 525 of 538 electoral votes. It was the largest number of votes ever won by an American presidential candidate.
During his second term at the president’s office, he took strong measures to fight against drugs and promised drug-free schools and workplaces. Additionally, he introduced strong law enforcement against drugs and greater public awareness.
Much of his second term was tarnished by the ‘Iran-Contra affair,’ a convoluted ‘arms-for-hostages’ deal with Iran to funnel money towards anti-communist insurgencies in Central America.
Controversy followed Reagan when he visited a German military cemetery in Bitburg to commemorate the end of ‘World War II’ in 1985. He was criticized when it was revealed that Nazi war criminals of the ‘Waffen-SS’ were also buried there.
In 1986, the US bombed Libya in an operation code-named ‘Operation El Dorado Canyon.’ The operation was carried out as the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was known to be a part of a group called ‘Unholy Trinity,’ supporting the Red Army faction and Red Brigades. It was believed that ‘Unholy Trinity’ was trying to become a nuclear power which alarmed the US.
In 1987, under his second term as the president, Americans and Soviets signed a historic agreement to eliminate intermediate-range nuclear missiles. He was also instrumental in bringing down the ‘Berlin Wall.’ This treaty was rendered useless when US President Donald Trump withdrew the treaty, citing non-compliance from Russia. The treaty was formally suspended by both parties in February 2019.
After serving as the president for two continuous terms, he evacuated the ‘White House’ in January 1989 and returned to his home in Los Angeles, California. In 1991, the ‘Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum’ opened in Simi Valley, California.
Awards & Achievements
Over the years, he was honored with numerous prestigious awards, including ‘American Presidential Medal of Freedom,’ ‘Republican Senatorial Medal of Freedom,’ ‘Congressional Gold Medal,’ ‘Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath,’ and Japan’s ‘Grand Cordon of the Order of the Chrysanthemum.’
Continue Reading Below
Several schools, institutions, buildings, roads, and airports bear his name and stand as a testament to the great work done by this prolific 40th US president. Additionally, numerous statues of him have been unveiled across the globe.
The ‘United States Postal Services’ issued commemorative postage stamp bearing his image in 2005. He was posthumously inducted into the ‘California Hall of Fame’ in the ‘California Museum’ in 2006. He was posthumously bestowed with the highest Polish distinction, ‘Order of the White Eagle’ in 2007. Additionally, he was named in the TIME’s list of ‘100 Most Important People of the 20th century.’
In 2010, Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a senate bill, proclaiming every 6th of February as ‘Ronald Reagan Day.’
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1940, he married actress Jane Wyman with whom he had three children, out of which one was adopted and one died in infancy. Reagan and Wyman got divorced in 1949.
He married Nancy Davis in 1952. Together, they had two children, Patti and Ron.
He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1994. He died on June 5, 2004, after suffering from pneumonia, which was complicated by Alzheimer’s disease.
His mortal remains were interred at the ‘Ronald Reagan Presidential Library’ in California. A state funeral was held at the ‘Washington National Cathedral’ and the then President George Bush declared June 11 as national day of mourning.