Ronald Wilson Reagan was born February 6, 1911, in Tampico, Illinois. Most of his childhood was spent in Dixon, Illinois, a small town about 100 miles west of Chicago. Reagan won a scholarship to study at Eureka College near Peoria, Illinois and majored in economics. He was also drawn toward acting, but upon graduation in 1932 the only job available related to show business was as a local radio sportscaster. In 1933 he became a sportscaster for station WHO in Des Moines, Iowa.
In 1937 Reagan went to Hollywood and began an acting career that spanned more than 25 years. He played in more than 50 films and his first political activities were associated with his responsibilities as a union leader; Reagan was active in the Screen Actors Guild (the union for film actors), and was elected six times as its president. During 1942 to 1945, Reagan served in the United States Army Air Force.
Reagan emerged on the national political scene in 1964 when he made an impassioned television speech supporting the Republican presidential candidate, U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater from Arizona. Although Goldwater lost the election, Reagan's speech brought recognition from Republicans around the country. He ran for governor of California in 1966, defeating Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, Sr., the incumbent Democrat, by almost a million votes. Reagan became the 33rd Governor of California.
During his first term Reagan temporarily stopped government hiring to slow the growth of the state workforce, but he also approved tax increases to balance the state budget. Reagan was elected to a second term in 1970. Governor Reagan worked with the Democratic majority in the state legislature to enact a major reform of the welfare system in 1971. The reform reduced the number of people receiving state aid while increasing the benefits for those who remained eligible. During his tenure as governor, Reagan chaired the Republican Governors Association from 1968 to 1969.
Reagan ran for President in 1980, successfully beating the incumbent, President Jimmy Carter to become the nation’s 40th president. Reelected in 1984, Reagan presided over broad changes in U.S. government economic and social policy.
After retiring to California, Reagan remained politically visible and active, becoming a national and international spokesman. He published his autobiography, An American Life, in 1990 and opened the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California in 1991. In 1993 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In November 1994 Reagan announced that he had Alzheimer's disease, and he subsequently died of the illness in 2004.