Ronald Wilson Reagan, the 40th President of the United States and namesake of USS RONALD REAGAN, was born February 6th, 1911 in rural Tampico, Illinois. The Reagan family consisted of his father, John Edward ("Jack"), his mother, Nelle Wilson and Ronald's older brother Neil. The Reagan family lived in several small Illinois towns before settling in Dixon, the place Ronald Reagan considers his hometown.
He graduated from Dixon High School in 1928 and went on to attend Eureka College, a small liberal arts institution near Peoria, Illinois. He majored in economics and sociology, graduating in 1932 at the height of the Great Depression. His school years seemed to be a model for his future, as he participated in various sports, starred in school plays and served as student body president in both high school and college.
Although the unemployment rate in the country stood at 25%, Ronald Reagan managed to land a job as sportscaster at WOC Radio in Davenport, Iowa. WOC later consolidated with WHO in Des Moines, and "Dutch" (a childhood nickname because of his "Dutch boy" haircut) gained national media exposure recreating Chicago Cubs baseball games from the studio.
In 1937, Ronald Reagan enlisted in the Army Reserve as a Private, but was soon promoted to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant in the Officers Reserve Corps of the Cavalry. That same year, one of his friends arranged for him to take a screen test at Warner Brother's studios. He was hired on the spot, and suddenly he was a Hollywood actor. He made more than 50 films, normally playing the hero, including the part of legendary Notre Dame halfback George Gipp in 1940's "Knute Rockne, All American." "Dutch" was later known by the nickname "the Gipper."
In 1938, while making the film "Brother Rat," Reagan fell in love with fellow Warner Bros. star Jane Wyman. The couple married in 1940 and Maureen Reagan was born January 4th, 1941. They later adopted a son, Michael in 1945. Their marriage, however, ended in divorce in 1948.
In 1942, Lieutenant Reagan was called to active duty by the Army Air Force. Capitalizing on his film experience, Lt. Reagan was assigned to 1st Motion Picture Unit in Culver City, California where he assisted in the production of over 400 training films. He was promoted to the rank of Captain in 1943 and discharged on December 9th, 1945, allowing him to resume his acting career.
Ronald Reagan became more involved in the political scene by supporting Harry Truman for president in 1948 and Helen Gahagan Douglas for the Senate in 1950. In 1949, Ronald Reagan met actress Nancy Davis. Sparks flew between the couple and on March 4th, 1952, they were married. That same year, Reagan campaigned as a Democrat for Eisenhower.
Reagan's second marriage proved more lasting than his first. Nancy devoted herself to supporting her husband's career and raising their two children, Ron and Patti.
In 1964, Reagan delivered a rousing speech, calling up romantic visions of an America of a bygone era ("We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth.."), on behalf of Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. Although Goldwater lost the election, Ronald Reagan, the handsome, articulate Hollywood actor was now in the political spotlight.
Backed by several wealthy businessmen in Southern California, Reagan won a landslide victory over Democratic incumbent Edmund Brown during the 1966 race for California Governor. He began his highly successful eight years as California's governor January 3, 1967.
Reagan made unsuccessful bids for president in 1968 and 1976, losing the GOP party nomination in both cases. Proving the adage that "third times a charm", he won the Republican party's nomination in 1980. He went on to win the Presidency in a landslide victory by appealing to the common sense of the American people ("...ask yourself, are you better off than you were 4 years ago?")
Reagan became one of the most popular presidents in history. His economic policies, known as "Reaganomics", resulted in a drop in the inflation rate from 13.5% in 1980 to under 5% by 1982 and throughout the rest of his presidency. His commitment to freedom and opposition to the spread of communism resulted in end of the Cold War in 1989. He maintained a firm and determined stance against terrorism, exemplified by American retaliation against Libya for the death of Americans in a Berlin discotheque in 1986. ("Today we have done what we had to do.") His quick wit endeared him to many, such as when his age was called into question during the presidential debates in 1984, and he remarked "I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience."
Although he worked hard at solving America's problems, he made no apologies for not putting in 16-hour days at the White House. Often criticized for running what appeared to be a "9-to-5" presidency, he was a devoted family man, spending as much time as he could with Nancy and his children.
A month before the election of his successor, Reagan reflected on his eight years in office. "I am the same man I was when I came to Washington," he remarked. "I believe the same things I believed when I came to Washington, and I think those beliefs have been vindicated by the success of the policies to which we hold fast."