On January 20, 1981, Ronald Reagan was elected the fortieth president of the United States and proceeded to serve two extremely successful terms in office. While Reagan remains one of the most popular presidents in American history, the path he took to gain the office of the presidency is quite unique.
The Early Years -- Radio and Film
Born in Tampico, Illinois, on February 6, 1911, Reagan began his career in the entertainment industry as a sports announcer for an Iowa radio station. His radio career came to an abrupt end when he was "discovered" by an agent for Warner Brothers during a trip to California to cover baseball spring training. He was hired to play (fittingly) a radio announcer in the film Love is on the Air. This signaled the beginning of an acting career which spanned almost thirty years and produced over fifty films including Knute Rockne--All American and King's Row. Even though Reagan was busy acting, he still showed signs of leadership which would later turn into a successful political career. In 1947, he was elected president of the Screen Actor's Guild and managed to win re-election for the next five terms.
Political Career Beginnings
During this time, he married and divorced actress Jane Wyman in 1949; the couple had two children. It was in 1952, however, that Reagan married the love of this life, Nancy Davis. With Nancy at his side, Reagan burst onto to the political scene in 1966 when he (to the surprise of many) won the race for California governor by nearly one million votes. He served as governor for the next eight years making massive changes to the California welfare and education system.
The Race for President
Holding the prime position of governor in California made Reagan set his sights even higher--becoming president of the United States. At first, his attempts to win the Republican presidential nomination were unsuccessful. He sought and lost both the 1968 and 1976 nominations. In typical Reagan fashion, however, he refused to give up and clinched the 1980 nomination by a vote of 1,939 to 55. He went on to defeat incumbent president Jimmy Carter in the November election by a substantial margin.
Slightly over two months after taking office in January 1981, he was shot and almost killed by would-be assassin John Hinckley, Jr. Luckily, he survived the attack and entered the history books as the only serving president shot by an assassin who survived. Reagan quickly recovered from the incident and went on to implement his economic plan (dubbed "Reaganomics") into American society. The plan mainly consisted of large tax cuts for businesses and individuals combined with budget reductions for domestic programs. Reaganomics, unfortunately, resulted in massive federal deficits due to the massive tax cuts and increased defense spending.
Reagan's Second Term
Reagan was renominated in 1984 and won by a landslide against challenger Walter Mondale. During this term, Reagan was touched by scandal when the administration admitted in 1986 it had been secretly selling arms to Iran, with some of the profits potentially funneling to guerillas in Nicaragua. These events triggered massive Congressional investigations and hearings which became known as the Iran-Contra Affair. President Reagan claimed to have been kept in the dark about the Iran-Contra link by national security advisor, John Poindexter, and his aide, Lt. Col. Oliver North. By the scandal's end, Reagan was portrayed as a confused and uninformed president; other top officials, however, were less fortunate and faced multiple indictments in 1988.
Still at the height of popularity, Reagan ended his second term of presidency in 1988 at the age of 77. The former president returned to the spotlight in 1995 when he publicly disclosed his fight with Alzheimer's disease in a letter to the American public. After this revelation, he retired from public life to privately battle his illness behind closed doors. His contributions to this country were given special recognition in 1998 when President William Clinton signed a law renaming the airport in Washington D.C. to Ronald Reagan National Airport.