Ronald Reagan: His Life : The Early Years

Compiled by Times Researcher Michael Meyers

1911: Feb. 6, 2 a.m. Ronald Wilson Reagan is born to John Edward Reagan and Nelle Wilson Reagan in Tampico, Ill., over the store where his father sold shoes.

1920-30: After moving five times in less than a decade, the Reagan family settles in Dixon, Ill., population 10,000. Reagan enrolls in North High School, where he makes the varsity football team as a junior and works as a lifeguard during the summer. He later enters Eureka College where he letters in track, basketball and football. He also serves as student body president and is active in school drama.

1932: Reagan graduates from Eureka College, with majors in economics and sociology. He begins a career in broadcasting, landing a job as the weekend sportscaster for WOC, Davenport, Iowa. His salary: $10 per game plus transportation. This year he votes in his first presidential election--for Democratic candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt.

1934: He transfers to NBC’s WHO radio station in Des Moines, where he re-creates professional baseball and Big 10 football games from the studio for the radio audience by reading telegraph accounts.

In Hollywood

1937: While on a trip to California to cover spring training of the Chicago Cubs baseball team, Reagan takes a screen test at Warner Bros., where he reads lines from Philip Barry’s play “Holiday.” He lands a seven-year contract at a salary of $200 per week. Portrays a radio announcer in his first film, “Love Is on the Air.” Reagan appears in more than 50 films during the next four years.


1939: He appears in “Dark Victory” and “Hell’s Kitchen.”

1940: The 28-year-old Reagan marries actress Jane Wyman, 26. After persuading Warner Bros. to make “Knute Rockne, All-American,” Reagan secures the part of George Gipp, the legendary Notre Dame running back, by showing the film’s producer photos of himself in his college football uniform. This role earns him the nickname “The Gipper.”

1941: Reagan plays the lead role of Drake McHugh in “Kings Row,” considered his finest film. Daughter Maureen is born.

1942-1945: During World War II, Reagan, a second lieutenant of cavalry, is called to active duty. Barred from combat because of his poor eyesight, Reagan serves briefly at Ft. Mason in San Francisco, overseeing the loading of convoys. Later, he works with the Army-Air Force First Motion Picture Unit as a narrator of preflight training films for bomber pilots. In 1943, he appears in Irving Berlin’s musical film “This Is the Army.” He serves until July, 1945, rising to the rank of captain.

1945: He adopts a son, Michael.

1946: He signs his second seven-year contract with Warner Bros., earning $3,500 a week. He is elected president of the Screen Actors Guild, serving from 1947 to 1952.

1947: Reagan testifies as a friendly witness before the House Committee on Un-American Activities when they investigate alleged Communist influence in Hollywood. Reagan also works with the FBI during the 1940s as an informant, code-named T-10, providing names of actors whom he believed to be Communists.

1949: He becomes chairman of the Motion Pictures Council. His divorce from Jane Wyman is finalized.

1950: Reagan campaigns for liberal Democrat Helen Gahagan Douglas in her Senate race against Republican candidate Richard M. Nixon.

1951: He appears in “Bedtime for Bonzo,” opposite a chimpanzee.

1952: He marries Nancy Davis on March 4. He joins Democrats for Eisenhower. Daughter, Patricia, is born.

1954: At a self-described low point in his career, Reagan does a two-week stint in Las Vegas, performing with the Blackburn Twins, the Continentals quartet and show girls in Latin costume. Later that year, he begins serving as host of the TV show “General Electric Theater” for a salary of $125,000. He also serves as the company spokesman, speaking before employees and other groups about the merits of free enterprise over big government.

1958: Son, Ronald, is born.

Entering Politics

1960: Although still a registered Democrat, Reagan campaigns for Republican presidential nominee Richard M. Nixon, delivering 200 speeches.

1962: Reagan changes his voter registration to Republican and becomes the host of the television series “Death Valley Days,” a job he keeps until he enters politics in 1965.

1964: Reagan appears in his last film, “The Killers,” the only one in which he plays a villain. Reagan serves as co-chair of California Republicans for Goldwater. Near the end of the campaign, Reagan delivers a 30-minute speech that raises $8 million, more money than any other speech up until that time and establishes him as a national political figure.

1966: Elected governor of California with 51% of the vote, beating Democratic incumbent Edmund G. (Pat) Brown Sr. As governor, Reagan eliminates the state budget deficit and institutes welfare reform. He takes a tough stand against war protesters on the state’s college campuses; and vetoes bills to establish bilingual education and to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. He surprises many of his opponents by signing a liberalized abortion bill. He also fights a state proposition that would have banned homosexual teachers in state schools and helps to establish the Redwood National Park.

1968: As a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, Reagan receives 182 delegate votes, coming in third behind Richard M. Nixon and Nelson Rockefeller.

1970: Re-elected governor with 52% of the vote, defeating Democratic challenger Jess Unruh.

1973: Reagan staunchly defends Nixon during the Watergate scandal.

1975: After ending his term as governor, Reagan returns to radio with a five-minute syndicated radio broadcast, writes a newspaper column and hits the lecture circuit. In November, he announces that he will challenge President Gerald R. Ford for the Republican presidential nomination.

1976: At the Republican National Convention in Kansas City, Mo., Reagan comes within 60 votes of denying President Ford the GOP nomination.

1979: Reagan announces his candidacy for a second run for the presidency.

The President

1980: Reagan wins his party’s nomination for President on the first ballot with 1,939 votes, trouncing competitors John B. Anderson, who received 37 votes, and George Bush, who received 13 votes. After former President Ford rejects Reagan’s offer to be his running mate, he picks George Bush, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, to share the GOP ticket. In the general election, Reagan delivers a stunning defeat to Democratic President Jimmy Carter, tallying 51% of the vote compared to Carter’s 41%, becoming the 40th President.

1981: In March, barely two months after assuming office, Reagan is the target of an assassination attempt by John W. Hinckley Jr. One bullet hits the President, puncturing his lung. Another bullet severly injures Press Secretary James Brady. In June, Reagan nominates Judge Sandra Day O’Connor, 51, of Arizonia as the first woman justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. As part of what has been called “Reaganomics,” the President pushes through Congress a large tax cut that he hopes will result in an economic boom for the country. At the same time, the Administration pursues increases in defense spending and cuts to domestic programs.

1983: Reagan orders an invasion of the West Indies island of Grenada in the wake of the killing of Marxist Prime Minister Maurice Bishop during a leftist military coup. Reagan says the invasion is necessary to protect the hundreds of Americans living there and to help restore democratic institutions.

1984: Reagan easily wins reelection, beating Democratic presidential candidate Walter F. Mondale 59% to 41% in the popular vote count and 525 to 13 in the electoral vote count; making this the largest presidential victory in history.

1986: In early November, a secret Administrative initiative to sell arms to Iran in exchange for the release of American hostages is revealed. In late November, it is revealed that the Administration diverted proceeds from the arms sales to fund the Nicaraguan contras.

1987: Reagan signs Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Soviety President Mikhail Gorbachev. The treaty bans ground-based nuclear missiles with a range of 300-3,500 miles.

1989: Reagan leaves office as one of the most popular outgoing Presidents since Dwight D. Eisenhower.

SOURCES: “The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents,” “The Real Reagan,” Office of President Ronald Reagan and Times stories.