Ronald Reagan Biography

Reagan served from 1981 to 1989 as the 40th president of the United States. At the age of 69, he was the oldest man ever sworn into that office. Reagan’s previous executive experience included two terms as president of the Screen Actors Guild (1952, 1959-60) and governor of the nation’s most populous state, California (1966-74).

Many books have been written about Ronald Reagan which describe his life in great detail. Reagan also wrote two biographies. For those looking for some highlights of his life we provide this brief timeline and details about events during his presidency.

Timeline: 1911-1980

You may skip ahead to 1981-9.

  • February 6, 1911Ronald Wilson Reagan was born in Tampico, Ill. to Nelle Wilson and Jack Reagan. The Reagans had one previous son, Neil “Moon” Reagan, born in 1908. Reagan earned the nickname “Dutch” from his father, who remarked that “he looked like a fat little Dutchman.”
  • 1920The Reagans moved to a succession of rural northern Illinois towns until they settled in Dixon, Illinois in December. Though the Reagans moved frequently, Dixon remains the place that Reagan considers his hometown.
  • 1922Reagan baptized at the Christian Church of Dixon, Illinois.
  • 1926Beginning in 1926, Reagan was employed as a lifeguard at Lowell Park in Dixon. Lowell Park is located alongside the Rock River, a sometimes dangerous body of water. He was credited with saving 77 lives during the six years he worked there, making him a local legend long before his careers in media and politics.
  • 1924-1928Reagan attended Dixon High School. He played on the football team and participated in school plays, foreshadowing his own movie career. Reagan was elected student body president in 1927.
  • 1928-1932Reagan attended Eureka College, a small liberal arts institution, and majored in economics and sociology. While at Eureka, Reagan pursued his interest in drama and became determined to become an actor. Reagan also served as student body president and helped organize a student strike.
  • 1932Reagan casts his first presidential vote, for FDR.

    Reagan received a temporary sports broadcasting job with WOC, a small radio station in Davenport, Iowa. He impressed the station manager with his ability to replay entire football games from memory. He obtained a part-time job announcing University of Iowa games before landing a full time job the next year.

  • 1933WHO, in Des Moines and WOC merge. Reagan moved to Des Moines as chief sports announcer. Reagan broadcast Cubs games from the studio, including a memorable incident where he described repeated “foul balls” to the audience when his game feed was interrupted for over six minutes.
  • 1935Reagan enlists in the Army Reserve.
  • 1937Reagan traveled west to cover the Cubs spring training. While in LA he took a screen test and was soon offered a contract by Warner Brothers for $200 per week. When told of the offer via telegram Reagan replied “sign before they change their minds”.

    Reagan appeared in his first film, Love is on the Air.

    Among other films and roles, Reagan realized his boyhood dream by playing George Gipp in Knute Rockne, All American. Over the next few years he starred in such films as King’s Row, Sante Fe Trail and Brother Rat.

    Reagan promoted to Second Lieutenant in the Reserve Corps of Cavalry.

  • 1938Reagan joins board of the Screen Actor’s Guild.

    The film Sergeant Murphy is released on February 1st.

  • January 16th, 1940Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman married. They met while making the movie Brother Rat.
  • January 4th, 1941Maureen was born.
  • September 17th, 1941Reagan testifies before before the Federal Bureau of Investigation about Communism in Hollywood
  • April 19th, 1942Reagan is called up from the Army reserves and assigned to the Army Air Corps. He spent WWII in the Army Air Corps Intelligence 1st Motion Picture Unit, dedicated to training pilots. Reagan would make many training films, briefing films for pilots and wartime films like Rear Gunner to boost morale.
  • September, 1942Reagan stars in King’s Row, wherein he plays Drake McHugh. One of the film’s most memorable lines “Where’s the rest of me?” would later become the title of Reagan’s first autobiography.
  • January 14th, 1943Reagan is promoted to First Lieutenant
  • July 22nd, 1943The Army promoted Reagan to the rank of Captain
  • February 2nd, 1945Reagan is recommended for promotion to Major
  • March 14th, 1945Adopted son, Michael, was born.
  • July 17th, 1945Promotion to Major denied
  • August 21st, 1945Reagan signs multi-million dollar contract with Warner Brothers studio.
  • Fall, 1945Reagan is one of the first persons to be able to view film of liberated concentration camps when it is delivered to the 1st Motion Picture Unit. It is a major influence on his world view.
  • December 9th, 1945The Army honorably discharged Captain Reagan. Reagan spent 10 years in the Army Reserve and on active duty in the Army Air Corps.
  • 1945-1965Reagan resumed his acting career after the war. Reagan made fifty-three motion pictures and one television movie.
  • 1945Michael adopted by Ronald and Jane.

    1946-1948 Reagan becomes President of the Screen Actor’s Guild. He guides the Guild through a difficult strike period which was intermixed by a hunt for Communists in Hollywood. As later information would reveal, the Communist Party, USA was behind the strikes, and was acting on orders from their counterparts in the Soviet Union.

  • March, 1947Reagan is elected President of the Screen Actor’s Guild for the first time. He is subsequently re-elected five times.
  • June 4th, 1947 Reagan stars in That Hagan Girl, with Shirley Temple.
  • October 25th, 1947Testifies before the House Un-American Activities Committee about Communism in Hollywood.
  • Fall, 1948Reagan supports Harry Truman for President.
  • June 28th, 1949Reagan’s divorce from Jane Wyman is finalized. Reagan’s increasing involvement in politics and the couple’s diverging movie careers were the main reasons behind the split.
  • 1950Reagan writes guest columns for Victor Riesel’s labor column.
  • April, 1950Reagan campaigned for Helen Gahagan Douglas for the Senate.
  • Fall, 1950Reagan switches his support to Richard Nixon. Inheriting from his father a New Deal orientation in politics, Reagan slowly shifted his views over the years as a concern with Communism overshadowed his ties to the party of the New Deal. In the 1950s he began to campaign on behalf of the strongest candidate against Communism, which was frequently a Republican.
  • December 7th, 1950Reagan makes his network television debut in Nash Airflyte Theatre. He would eventually star in over sixty television shows.
  • 1951Reagan stars in the comedy Bedtime for Bonzo.
  • March 4th, 1952Ronald Reagan and Nancy Davis wed.
  • June, 1952Reagan delivers the commencement address America the Beautiful at William Woods College in Fulton, Missouri.
  • October 22nd, 1952Patricia was born.
  • Fall, 1952Reagan campaigned as a Democrat for Eisenhower.
  • Fall, 1952Reagan stars as Grover C. Alexander in The Winning Team, his last film for Warner Brothers.
  • May 2nd, 1953Named Honorary Mayor of Malibu Lake, California.
  • 1954Reagan accepted a job as spokesman for the General Electric Company. This allowed him to tour the country as he gave motivational speeches to GE employees. He also starred in GE Theater, hosting the show an occasionally appearing in feature roles.
  • 1955Named Honorary Mayor of Thousand Oaks, California.
  • 1956Reagan again campaigns as a Democrat for Eisenhower.
  • May 28th, 1958Ronald Prescott was born.
  • November, 1959Reagan is again elected President of the Screen Actors Guild.
  • July, 1960Reagan resigns as President of the Screen Actors Guild following a strike. He and Nancy also resign from the Board.
  • Fall, 1960Reagan campaigns for Richard Nixon for President.
  • February 5th, 1962Reagan makes a Grand Jury appearance in the MCA-SAG anti-trust hearing.
  • March, 1962GE discontinues GE Theatre. Reagan’s last appearance is broadcast on August 26th, 1962.
  • Fall, 1962Reagan officially changes his party registration to Republican. He supports Richard Nixon’s campaign for California governor.
  • 1964Reagan becomes host of Death Valley Days on TV. He appeared in or hosted twenty-one episodes broadcast from 1965-6.

    Starred in The Killers, uncharacteristically portraying the villain.

  • October 27th, 1964Reagan’s television address for Goldwater, A Time for Choosing, launches his political career. A group of California businessmen soon afterward approached Reagan and convinced him to run for Governor of California. Reagan would continue to use A Time for Choosing in the months and years ahead as a staple of his fundraising appearances and motivational talks.
  • 1965Reagan’s first autobiography, Where’s the Rest of Me? is published.

    Reagan resigns as host of Death Valley Days

  • 1966Reagan defeated incumbent governor Edmund G. (“Pat”) Brown in a landslide, winning by more than a million votes. He obtains the second nickname “Governor”. His success in the election and as governor made him a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968. Governor Reagan won the loyalty of conservatives by initially opposing state spending and tax increases, but he proved to be a pragmatist when California’s growth required an expansion of government services. He left Sacramento in 1974 with the California budget showing a $550-million surplus.
  • January 2nd, 1967Reagan is sworn in as California Governor.
  • 1968Reagan made a tentative run for the presidency, waiting until the Republican National Convention in August to announce his candidacy. He later joined in unanimously supporting Richard Nixon.

    An attempt is made on Reagan’s life. At least two people tried to firebomb Reagan’s residence, but were driven off by Secret Service gunfire.

  • May 15th, 1969Governor Reagan calls out the National Guard to quell violence at Berkeley. Reagan’s most controversial decision while Governor was his hard-line stance against student uprisings at Berkeley and other California colleges. Reagan believed the disturbances were caused by outside agitators. Subsequent research would reveal that Communist organizations were behind many of the violent activities in and around the campuses.
  • November, 1970Reagan is re-elected Governor of California.
  • 1971Reagan signs the California Welfare Reform Act.
  • Fall, 1974For several months after his gubernatorial term ended, Reagan wrote a syndicated newspaper column and provided commentaries on radio stations across the country.

    Reagan declines offers from the Ford Administration to become either the Ambassador to the Court of Saint James, Secretary of Transportation or Secretary of Commerce.

  • November 20th, 1975Reagan announced candidacy for the Republican nomination for president. He lost the party’s nomination, but his strong showing and moving speech at the convention laid the groundwork for his election in 1980.
  • August 19th, 1976Reagan addresses the Republican National Convention in Kansas City.
  • November 13th, 1979Reagan announced his candidacy for President.
  • February 23rd, 1980Famous debate in Nashua, New Hampshire where Reagan states “I paid for this microphone” when debate moderators try to exclude anyone except candidates Reagan and Bush. Reagan’s inclusion of all candidates garners voter good will and helps him win the New Hampshire primary.
  • March 18th, 1980Reagan debates Bush, John Anderson and Phil Crane (the only remaining candidates).
  • April 24th, 1980Debates George Bush in Houston.
  • July 16th, 1980Reagan nominated by the Republican Party to run for President. He choses fellow candidate George Bush as his running mate after talks with former President Gerald Ford fail to achieve and agreement for him to join the ticket as the VP candidate. Reagan’s platform calls for “a new consensus with all those across the land who share a community of values embodied in these words: family, work, neighborhood, peace, and freedom.” Reagan also championed an across-the-board cut in tax rates, increased defense spending and decreasing overall Federal spending to lower deficits.
  • September 21st, 1980Reagan debates John Anderson, who is running as an independent candidate for President after failing to win the Republican nomination. Jimmy Carter declines to participate.
  • October 28th, 1980Debates Jimmy Carter.
  • November 4th, 1980Reagan is elected the 40th President of the United States in a landslide victory over the incumbent, Jimmy Carter.