“The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them.” -President Ronald Reagan in his speech responding to the 1986 Challenger Shuttle disaster
Ronald Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois on February 6, 1911. As a youth, his father nicknamed him “Dutch” because of his “Dutchboy” haircut. He had an older brother, Neil. His mother Nelle was very religious and raised Ronald in the Disciples of Christ faith. He attended Dixon High School and Eureka College in nearby Eureka, IL. He was considered very talented at many different things: theater, debate, campus politics, swimming and football. He graduated from college in 1932 with a degree in economics and sociology.
After college, Reagan worked as a sports caster for the radio station at University of Iowa. With his persuasive and powerful voice, he eventually landed the job of announcer for the Cubs baseball games on WHO radio. In 1937, while traveling with the Cubs in California, Reagan took a screen test and won a seven-year contract with Warner Brother studios. Within the first two years of his career in Hollywood, Reagan had appeared in 19 films, including Dark Victory with Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis. In 1940, he played the role George “The Gipper” Gipp in Knut Rocknew, All American, which earned him the lifelong nickname “The Gipper.” In 1939, Reagan met his first wife, actress Jane Wyman, in the film Brother Rat. The couple had three children and they were married for 10 years.
From 1942-1945 Reagan was on active duty in the 18th Army Air Force Base Unit (a.k.a the First Motion Picture Unit). He was never sent overseas due to problems with his vision, but he was well suited for the army and he was promoted to captain in 1943. In 1947, upon his return to Hollywood, Reagan was elected president of the Screen Actor’s Guild. In 1949, he and his first wife divorced, allegedly over arguments about his political aspirations. He is the only US President to have been divorced. In 1949, he met Nancy Davis, an actress who came to him at the Screen Actor’s Guild for help regarding issues with her name being falsely Hollywood blacklisted. They were married in 1952 and had two children. Charlton Heston once said theirs was “probably the greatest love affair in the history of the American Presidency.”
During the 1950s, Reagan’s film career began to dwindle, so he turned to television. He was hired as the host of General Electric Theater. However, Reagan’s interests began to shift to the political arena. Originally a staunch Democrat, Reagan switched his political affiliation in 1962 because his view on the free market, anticommunism, and limited government changed so drastically working in the corporate television world, as well as the influence of Nancy’s conservatism. In 1964, Regan endorsed Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater and delivered his famous “Time for Choosing Speech.” His successful speech caught the eye of California Republicans and he successfully ran for Governor of California in 1966. During his years a governor, Reagan is known for his brutal crackdown on anti-establishment college protests, particularly at U.C. Berkeley.
In 1976, Ronald Reagan turned his ambitions to the Republican candidacy for President. However, he was not able to win the candidacy over incumbent President Gerald Ford, who eventually lost the election to Democrat Jimmy Carter. In 1981, Reagan ran for president against Jimmy Carter and won on his “I believe in states rights” campaign. On March 30, 1981, only 69 days into Reagan’s administration, John Hinkley, Jr shot President Ronald Reagan outside of the Washington Hilton Hotel in an assassination attempt. Press Secretary James Brady, Officer Thomas Delehanty, Special Agent Jerry Parr, and Agent Timothy McCarthy were also wounded in the attempt to save the president. Rushed to the hospital, Reagan survived a critical gunshot would to the chest. His approval rating after the assassination rose to an astounding 73%.
President Reagan served two terms from 1981-1989. During his eight years in office, he is noted for making many historically influential decisions. His applied “Reaganomics” were supply-side economics that reduced government spending and regulation; federal income taxes; and capital gain taxes to control inflation. Many believed the Reagan years to be the period of most economic prosperity in the US, while many others believe that these policies created superficial economic growth that would later cause many problems for the economy. During his presidency, the Cold War escalated with the more aggressive tactics of the “Reagan Doctrine.” Famously, in 1987, Reagan challenged U.S.S.R. General Secretary Gorbachev to “tear down this wall!” and in 1989, the Berlin Wall came down. The pressure of the Reagan doctrine revealed the U.S.S.R’s unstable economy and disorganized government and armed forces, while still maintaining a balance to avoid war.
After the presidency, Nancy and Ronald Reagan lead a relatively quiet life in their home in Bel Air, Los Angeles. In 1998, 84-year-old Ronald Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, and on June 5, 2004, died of pneumonia related to Alzheimer’s Disease at the age of 93. There tends to be a stark partisan divide in the interpretation of Reagan’s presidential legacy. However, he is universally an emblem of the decade from 1980-1990 and a powerful figure to the young generation growing up at this time.