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Ronald Reagan was born on February 6, 1911, in a small town called Tampico in Illinois. Reagan grew up in a modest apartment although his father was an alcoholic and his mother spent much of her time taking care of Ronald and his brother, Neil. Reagan's mother told the boys that alcoholism was a disease and that they should not blame their father. Reagan's father, despite his alcoholism, was a Democratic activist who passionately supported Franklin D. Roosevelt during his presidency. In school, Reagan was active in extra-curricular activities like basketball, football, swimming, writing for the year book, and student council. After graduating from high school, Reagan went to Eureka College in Eureka, Illinois, where he majored in economics. While in college, Reagan was an average student and spent much of his time playing sports and participating in the college drama club.
The Movie Star
Once he graduated from college, Reagan began working as a sportscaster for a local radio station where he was highly successful due to his catchy lines. This success landed him a spot on a larger radio station calling games for the Chicago Cubs and Big Ten football games. Reagan enjoyed being on the radio, but loved acting more. Reagan soon met with a Hollywood acting agent who set up a screen test for Warner Brothers, which was looking for a young, attractive, male actor to play in a few upcoming movies. Warner Brothers eventually cast Reagan in 52 movies, including The Killers, Knute Rockne, and Kings Row. Reagan was also involved in Army training films because he was a member of the U.S. Army Cavalry Reserve and his responsibilities included starring in and narrating the training videos.
From Governor to the Oldest Elected President
Reagan took his first political step in 1964 when he gave a speech in support of Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater. Two years later, Reagan decided to try his hand in politics and ran for Governor of California. Reagan dominated the election, defeating the Democratic incumbent by more than one million votes. Reagan tried twice to gain the Republican nomination for President before finally scoring the nomination in 1980. In the 1980 election, Reagan defeated the incumbent, Jimmy Carter, capturing almost fifty-one percent of the popular vote, becoming America's 40th President. At the age of 69, Reagan was the oldest elected President in United States history.
In 1981, Reagan delivered one of the most passionate inaugural addresses in history as he told the American people that the government was the problem and that he would provide a beacon of hope for those who lacked hope. Reagan also redesigned the White House, wore designer suits, and looked like a movie star while in office. In March of the same year, Reagan survived an assassination attempt while exiting the Washington Hilton Hotel. The bullet entered the President's lung, narrowly missing his heart. He would be back in his desk in the Oval Office within a few weeks.
While in office, Reagan's tax-cut plan, known as 'Reaganomics," (also referred to as supply-side or trickle-down economics) was based on the idea that tax cuts for wealthy business owners would result in higher wages, increased consumer spending, and increased investment in the stock market. Although some economists point to Reaganomics as the driver for seven years of economic prosperity, others claim it hurt the middle class and raised the national deficit. Reagan also appointed Sandra Day O' Connor to the Supreme Court, making her the first woman to hold this position.
For much of his presidency, Reagan dealt with the end of the Cold War, a 44-year race between the United States and Russia for world supremacy. As part of the Cold War, Reagan championed a plan to create the Strategic Defense Initiative, also known as "Star Wars," which was a plan in which the United States would build satellites and potentially a space station that would protect it from nuclear weapons fired by rogue nations. He also created the Reagan Doctrine, which declared the United States would aid countries in Africa and Latin America that were fighting against Communism. Reagan is given credit for ending the Cold War because he was able to forge a diplomatic relationship with the Soviet Union and convince their leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, to allow the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in Germany, a symbol of Communism in Europe. It was his domestic and foreign policies that helped him win reelection in 1984 by the largest margin in American election history.