Ronald Wilson Reagan (February 6, 1911 – June 5, 2004) was the 40th President of the United States (1981–1989). Prior to his presidency, he served as the 33rd Governor of California (1967–1975), and was a radio, film and television actor.
Born in Tampico, Illinois, and raised in Dixon, Reagan was educated at Eureka College, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics and sociology. After graduating, Reagan moved first to Iowa to work as a radio broadcaster and then, in 1937, to Los Angeles where he began a career as an actor, first in films and later television. Some of his most notable films include Knute Rockne, All American (1940), Kings Row (1942), and Bedtime for Bonzo (1951). Reagan served as President of the Screen Actors Guild and later as a spokesman for General Electric (GE); his start in politics occurred during his work for GE. Originally a member of the Democratic Party, his positions began shifting rightward in the 1950s, and he switched to the Republican Party in 1962.
After delivering a rousing speech in support of Barry Goldwater’s presidential candidacy in 1964, he was persuaded to seek the California governorship, winning two years later and again in 1970. He was defeated in his run for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968 and in 1976, but won both the nomination and general election in 1980, defeating incumbent Jimmy Carter.
As president, Reagan implemented sweeping new political and economic initiatives. His supply-side economic policies, dubbed “Reaganomics”, advocated reducing tax rates to spur economic growth, controlling the money supply to reduce inflation, deregulation of the economy, and reducing government spending. In his first term he survived an assassination attempt, took a hard line against labor unions, announced a new War on Drugs, and ordered an invasion of Grenada. He was re-elected in a landslide in 1984, proclaiming that it was “Morning in America”. His second term was primarily marked by foreign matters, such as the ending of the Cold War, the 1986 bombing of Libya, and the revelation of the Iran–Contra affair. Publicly describing the Soviet Union as an “evil empire”, he supported anti-communist movements worldwide and spent his first term forgoing the strategy of détente by ordering a massive military buildup in an arms race with the USSR. Reagan negotiated with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, culminating in the INF Treaty and the decrease of both countries’ nuclear arsenals.
Reagan left office in 1989. In 1994, the former president disclosed that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease earlier in the year; he died ten years later at the age of 93. A conservative icon, he ranks highly in public opinion polls of U.S. Presidents and is credited for generating an ideological renaissance on the American political right.