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19 Ronald Reagan Facts and Common Questions about America’s 40th President

Tall, handsome, well-spoken, charismatic…all of these qualities are desirable in a leader, but also an entertainer. Ronald Reagan managed to be both a famous American entertainer as well as an effective and successful leader. Beloved by many, he ranks as one of the nation’s most accomplished citizens and public servants. Let’s spend some time learning about him, looking at a set of 19 facts and the common questions asked about him.

Fact # 1 – Ronald Reagan is unique in American history since he was a famous actor, then a state governor and then an American President

So, just who is Ronald Reagan? If you are looking for the most basic answers or facts: He is an American man who became a very famous radio broadcaster and then an actor, before retiring from the movie and TV industry to serve as Governor of the State of California for two terms (from January 1986 until the end of his second term in 1975). He then went on to win nomination for and election to the office of President of the United States.

If you want the simplest answer to who is Ronald Reagan, you should know he was a son and brother to one sibling – an older brother named Neil Reagan. He was married twice. First to actress Jane Wyman (a successful actress), with whom he had two daughters (only one survived to adulthood), and an adopted son named Michael. This marriage ended because of Reagan’s dedication to his career and his long hours spent away from his family and his home.

This made him the country’s first President to also have been divorced before election.

His second marriage was to Nancy Davis, another fellow actor. The pair met because Davis’ name was accidently added to the famous “blacklist”. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the United States was undergoing a massive level of paranoia relating to communist activities, and Hollywood was especially disrupted by this period. Davis shared a name with a fellow actress, and it was she and not Reagan’s soon-to-be-wife with communist affiliation.

Davis had contacted Reagan to explain the error and the pair hit it off! They married three years later and had two children – Pattie and Ron. Both children would become successful adults with Patti a popular author and Ron a professional dancer and then a broadcast journalist.

Husband, father, brother, son…Ronald Reagan was more than just the official titles he earned throughout his life. Keep in mind that he would also be Democratic, Republican, President of SAG, Second Lieutenant, and more!

Fact # 2 – Ronald Reagan came of age during the Great Depression and was part of a working-class family that lived in an apartment above a commercial space.

When was Ronald Reagan born? Where was Ronald Reagan born? Many of Reagan’s admirers point out his humble beginnings and his amazing abilities to lift himself up to the highest office in the nation. Born on February 6, 1911 in Tampico, Illinois. He was the second son of John Edward Reagan and Nelle Wilson Reagan. Initially living in a second-floor apartment tucked into a commercial property, the Reagan family would relocate many times, mostly in Illinois while their sons grew up.

They were in Dixon, IL as Ronald Reagan reached the concluding years of high school, and he graduated from the Dixon High School. At the same time, he was remarkably active as a lifeguard and would be credited with eventually helping more than 75 swimmers. He was noted for his leadership serving as a captain in the swim team, president of the student body, and member of the football and track teams as well as part of the basketball cheerleading team. He was a yearbook editor for his high school, too.

A religious family, it was Reagan’s pastor at the Disciples of Christ church that encouraged him to consider attending college. And though another of Reagan’s mentors also encouraged such a choice, it is said that it was only when his girlfriend indicated she would be attending Eureka College in a town ninety miles away that Reagan decided to consider higher education.

Fact # 3 – Ronald Reagan attended college after appealing directly to the school’s President, receiving financial support and even an on-campus job!

Where did Ronald Reagan go to college? It was when he drove his then girlfriend to the Eureka College campus that he made the final decision to pursue his degree. He had not made a formal application and instead headed to the President’s office, asking him directly for help through one of the school’s Needy Student Scholarships.

Even this early in his life he was impressive enough and influential enough to convince the President to give him the support requested, and to take it even farther than that. He also helped Reagan by providing him with a job in the school’s dining hall, enabling him to both go to his classes and enjoy three full meals each day!

And what did this future President study? He focused his attention on two topics, going for a dual major in sociology and also economics. As one expert wrote, “His economics education served him well after he became involved in politics, as did his study of behaviors through sociology.”

A physically active person at all times, he also began playing college level football (getting a letter three out of his four years), swimming and eventually coaching the swim team, running on the track team, and cheering for the basketball team. He began to show an interest in dramatics, participating in more than a dozen of the college’s productions. He also continued with his earlier interest in student leadership doing two years in Student Senate and gaining the seat of President of the student body, as well. He was brought into the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity as well, and graduated in 1932.

And though he had study two very serious topics, his heart was already showing signs of having been bitten by the entertainment bug. Rather than taking up a career in either sociology or economics, the young undergraduate accepted a job as a radio broadcaster for the University of Iowa’s football team. As a first step towards a career, it was a great deal wiser than many might think. It was a very low-paying job, but it attracted a lot of attention. He did so well that he was quickly picked up for other radio work and was soon an announcer for the Chicago Cubs (professional baseball team).

Keeping his focus on a much larger career in entertainment, the young radio announcer was making auditions and screen tests throughout this time, and it was in 1937 that he got a shot with Warner Brothers Pictures. They liked his strong good looks, excellent speaking voice and professional skills to such a degree that the novice actor was given a seven year contract. Though he was directed into mostly western and “B-movies” (which are lower budget productions without big name stars), he did make some well-known films.

As was the case in that era, men of a certain age had to enlist for the Draft and yet Reagan also enlisted in the Army Enlisted Reserve around 1937. He was given a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Officers Reserve Corp.

Although many were worried about the problems in Europe and Asia, not many were certain that the United States would enter into open war with Germany, Italy or Japan. History has shown that concerns were well founded, and Reagan’s reserve status was switched to active status in April 1942. Putting his career on hold (by this time he had started to earn a name and a fan following), he entered into active duty as a soldier in World War II.

Fact # 4 – Ronald Reagan put a flourishing acting career on hold in order to serve active duty during World War II

Many people are certain that military service is required in order to serve as a President of the United States. That is not correct. However, a lot of people wonder “was Ronald Reagan in the military?” The answer, as you know already, is yes, he was.

However, he did not make it into combat due to problems with his eyesight. He failed the vision tests that would have put him into service overseas. So, he made the best of the situation and asked to be assigned to the 1st Motion Picture Unit, which operated out of Culver City, CA.

What did this unit do? The men of this unit (later to become the 18th Army Air Forces Base Unit) worked remarkably hard for the USAAF throughout the war. They were the very first unit made of professionals in the entertainment industry. They were able to make more than 400 training films as well as excellent propaganda films. The men aimed to make every film produced as educational, informational AND entertaining as they could, and some still remain popular for their cinematic and story-telling value.

It is amazing to think of people like Ronald Reagan, Clark Gable, DeForest Kelley (he played “Bones” on Star Trek), and William Holden spending their time during the war working cooperatively to make movies that would eventually help to train soldiers, combat cameramen, and more. Some of their films were also released into theaters with one of the most famous being the story of the Memphis Belle.

Fact # 5 – During WWII, Ronald Reagan was a strong supporter of the Democratic party.

Though he was a republican president, many still wonder “was Ronald Reagan democrat or republican?” Why is this the case? It is because the period before World War II saw him speaking out on behalf of the Democratic Party (under the leadership of President Franklin D. Roosevelt) and its New Deal.

At the end of the war, Reagan was chosen to be a spokesperson for General Electrics Co. He would write and present speeches on their behalf, and in each of these presentations he said he was a liberal Democrat and a dedicated member of the party.

However, those who scrutinized his ideals noted he was more clearly a Republican and he further upheld this concept when he supported politicians like Eisenhower and Nixon. And, as that same expert noted, “He gave many speeches for the GE company, most of them being written from a non-partisan point of view, though they were often big-business friendly and conservative in nature,” ideals aligned with the Republicans.

This led to his loss of the GE spokesperson job, but opened the door to his political career, which really kicked off around 1962. He switched from Democrat to Republican and bean openly endorsing Republican candidates.

Fact # 6 – Ronald Reagan’s popular speeches in support of Barry Goldwater’s candidacy for the U.S. President in in 1964 led to his becoming Governor of California.

Barry Goldwater, a five-times elected Republican senator, decided to make an attempt at the presidency in 1964. Called Mr. Conservative by most, he was a very successful businessman before becoming a successful politician. Though his bid failed, Reagan had made a famous speech (entitled “Time for Choosing”) endorsing Goldwater and garnering more than one million dollars in campaign contributions. While the speech was meant to clarify Goldwater’s form of conservatism, it ended up being as much a platform for Reagan and his ideals. He described his approval of smaller government, welfare reform and more.

The attention he garnered got him the support needed to run for Governor in the 1966 elections under a platform emphasizing welfare reform. He won, and so the answer to the common question of “when was Ronald Reagan governor of California?” is that he was governor from 1967 until 1975. During that time he did live up to his promised social reforms and changes in welfare laws as well as making major budget cuts.

Fact # 7 – Ronald Reagan ran for President several times before winning election.

Though it is well-known that Ronald Reagan became President, it is not as well known that he made two previous attempts at the office before taking the election. His first effort was in 1968 when he sought the Presidency as a means of preventing Richard Nixon from taking the office. He finished in third place in the race. He also tried again in 1976, with many saying that this was a far more serious effort, but he lost the nomination to Gerald Ford – the incumbent.

He was finally able to get the nomination in 1980, even though he came up against another incumbent, President Jimmy Carter.

So, when was Ronald Reagan elected? He was elected as President of the United States in the 1980 elections, and then again four years later. When was Ronald Reagan president? He served two full terms starting in 1981 and finishing up 1989. What number president was Ronald Reagan? He was America’s 40th President and was succeeded by his vice-president.

Who was Ronald Reagan’s vice president? He chose George H.W. Bush to be his vice-president during both of his terms. As a successful businessman and fellow World War II veteran, he was a good choice. With a fruitful political career and role as director of the CIA, he was a brilliant choice for #2.

Fact # 8 – The Reagan Administration saw many accomplishments and the President was seen by many as an inspired and inspiring leader.

An effective Governor and successful leader in his early life, it made sense that Reagan would eventually enter politics and even the White House. What is not so obvious is whether someone will do well in the role of President of the United States.

So, was Ronald Reagan a good president?

His proponents will tell you that he was a great president because of his economic stimulus policies, his focus on strengthening the nation’s defenses, his part in endling the Cold War and his re-energizing of the GOP or Republican Party. However, he also has his detractors who would say that his economic policies were a disaster because they poured funds into defense while shrinking or eliminating social services. He also was president as the country entered a deep deficit.

His Administration would begin the famous War on Drugs, endure the Iran Contra scandal, and weather an almost successful assassination attempt. As we said, most people (the pro and con sides) point towards economics, the Cold War, taxes, social reform, the environment, education and defense as key areas of his success or failure. Some also insist that is laissez faire and/or hands off approach to leadership garnered him praise from some and harsh criticism from others.

As you can guess, these are complex matters, and it is not fair to try to say that any President is entirely good or entirely bad – unless you are a fan of one-sided debates. Let’s dig a bit into these issues by looking at some facts and questions relating to them.

Fact # 9 – During his years as President of the United States, the country’s economy improved.

So, what did president Ronald Reagan believe about economic growth? The reforms he created were deemed “Reaganomics” and his policies, as one expert explains, included “a reduction in government spending and regulation and cuts in taxes, [resulting] in an unprecedented 92-month long economic boom, from Nov. 1982 to July 1990, with expansion and growth in the GDP (+36%), employment (+20 million jobs), and the Dow Jones Industrial Average (+15%).”

That is an enviable set of figures for any United States President, but there was a downside to all of it. For instance, Reagan’s first campaign included a promise to get a balanced federal budget. Yet, not once during his time in office was a balanced budget submitted to Congress. During his first year in office, as that same expert also noted, “the deficit was $79 billion and, in 1986, at the peak of his deficit spending, it stood at $221 billion. The federal debt was $994 billion when he took office in 1981 and grew to $2.9 trillion when his second term ended in 1989.” He is also known for building up more trade barriers since the 1930s and imposing restraint on most imports, boosting costs by 23%.

Restoring the economy was done using Reagan’s deep tax cuts. This saw taxes drop from 70% to 28%, and demonstrated that by reducing excessive tax rates, economic activity could be stimulated, growth would occur and tax revenues increase. In this, he was correct and government earnings from income tax actually increased to more than $445 billion.

There was a downside. Reagan was noted for having “voodoo” economic policies and using “trickle down” policies because of his theory that cutting taxes would generate tax revenues, and though it worked at some levels, government spending greatly outweighed the tax revenues.

For example, the Reagan Administration spent around $590 billion in its first year, but had leapt to more than one trillion dollars by 1990. To meet demands, the Administration ended up cutting AND boosting taxes. While income taxes decreased, payroll taxes climbed and Social Security tax increases were also made to the tune of more than $160 billion in a seven year period.

In other words, just as most other American presidencies, Reagan was able to deliver on some of his promises, but unable to realize some of his most clearly explained plans or goals. One of his amazing, and some say greatest, achievements was in foreign policy by helping to bring the nearly 50-year Cold War to a close.

Fact # 10 – The Cold War ended during Reagan’s presidency

How did Ronald Reagan end the Cold War? Though he is famous for his speech at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin, Germany, in which he said “Tear down this wall!” in reference to the Berlin Wall behind him, it took more than these stirring words to end the nearly 50 years of the Cold War.

Ronald Reagan’s record on foreign affairs involves far more than the Cold War (for example, the Reagan Doctrine was designed to provide anticommunist support in Africa, Latin America and Asia), it seems to stand out for it.

Interestingly enough, Reagan’s first term as President seemed to be an escalation of the conflict. America created the SDI or Strategic Defense Initiative to begin its “Star Wars” program of spaced based, anti-nuclear defenses. America’s military was bulked up, defenses improved and huge investments in arms made.

Then, at the outset of his second term, Reagan seemed to reverse course and began building diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union’s “reform minded” leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. This is when a period of serious disarmament began, including the 1987 deal to eliminate all intermediate-range nuclear missiles.

It was in this same era that the Brandenburg Gate speech was made and the famous Berlin Wall would come down (around two years after the speech). In fact, Reagan was able to head to Germany prior to the dismantling of the wall and reunification of the two Germanies, offering a symbolic blow of the hammer to a piece of the wall.

Fact # 11 – He survived an assassination attempt that left one of his staff paralyzed and inspired changes in gun laws

Many people want to know when was Ronald Reagan shot during his presidency, and are astonished to learn that it was only a few months into his first term – March 30, 1981. Who tried to kill Ronald Reagan? The would-be assassin was John Hinckley, Jr. The remarkably ridiculous reason for his behavior was that he was hoping to impress actress Jodie Foster, whom he had become obsessed with after viewing the film “Taxi Driver”.

Reagan was hit in the chest and nearly died due to internal bleeding. He recovered remarkably fast and was soon back in office. Other victims were Press Secretary James Brady, Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy, and Thomas Delahanty, a Washington D.C. police officer.

Brady had serious brain damage as a result and his wife Sarah then became one of the country’s most eager and active gun control advocates. She and her husband lobbied for gun control and the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act was passed in their honor in 1993.

The attempted assassination was documented by live television crews and the American public was frozen in shock and dismay. The President wanted to reassure the nation and appeared the morning after his surgery (to remove the bullet fragments from his lungs), seeing guests and even signing a single item of legislation. He was back in action 13 days later.

The issue led to a tremendous surge in his popularity and Reagan had an almost unprecedented approval rating of 73% in the months after. This was important for his popularity in the future when he faced controversy over the infamous Iran Contra scandal.

Fact # 12 – In spite of widespread adoration and high approval ratings, the Iran Contra scandal harmed Reagan’s image.

How did the Iran Contra Scandal hurt Ronald Reagan’s image? Surviving an assassination attempt, ending the Cold War and improving the economy would seem to give Reagan an impenetrable level of protection from criticism or negative commentary. However, his image did suffer greatly because of the infamous Iran Contra scandal.

Essentially, the Iran Contra Affair occurred because the National Security Council or NSC conducted activities that were prohibited or flatly illegal for the United States Congress to participate in, violating established policy.

Much of Reagan’s foreign policy aimed at halting and/or eliminating communism. This was especially true of the Latin American region, which connected to the North American continent. Prior to Reagan’s time in the White House, Nicaragua had undergone massive change and a distinctly left-wing regime was in place. This worried Reagan upon entry to the White House and so his Administration was told to offer military support and aid to several Central American governments struggling with their own civil wars or guerrilla brigades.

Unfortunately, the work done by the U.S. government in Nicaragua aimed at destabilizing and overthrowing it. Militias (known as Contras) were given military aid to fight the Sandinista regime, despite the fact that Congress had banned such programs. This left the White House in the unwelcome position of covertly providing and continuing the support.

If that were where the story ended it would be scandalous enough, but there was also a second issue – arms sales to underwrite the funding of the Contras in Nicaragua. The arms in question were sold to Shi’ite terrorists loyal to Iran, in exchange for American citizens being kept as captives in Lebanon. The weapon sales were in direct contradiction to government policy that stated the United States did not bargain with or aid terrorists and/or Iran in its war against neighboring Iraq.

Some of the monies received from Iran for the illegally sold arms went to the Contras in Nicaragua. The financial arrangements were handled by a member of the NSC, a Lt. Col. Oliver North with full approval of NSC leadership. They had violated the 1984 Boland Amendment, an official law meant to ban any form of aid to the Contras.

Naturally, such actions would eventually come to light, which they did in 1996. North testified before Congress that the President and Vice-President knew of the deals, but no evidence ever proved this claim true. Several key players, including North, were prosecuted.

How did this harm Reagan’s reputation? Essentially, it shed light on his laid-back form of management and oversight. The commission tasked with investigating the matter said that the President had “a lax managerial style and aloofness from policy detail—and the United States suffered a serious though temporary loss of credibility as an opponent of terrorism”.

It also forced the public to worry about the actual power in the hands of the Executive if such behaviors could be used to thwart established laws and formal policies.

Did it permanently tarnish Reagan’s reputation? Polls say it did, and that no discussions of his legacy will overlook the Iran Contra affair and how it undermined his credibility.

Fact # 13 – As the first President to appoint a woman to the United States Supreme Court, to bring about the end of the Cold War and even help dismantle the Berlin Wall, he was a major global and national figure.

Ronald Reagan was a very important President in the United States. Why was Ronald Reagan important? Though he had his fair share of detractors and even scandals, he did make a great many positive changes. As noted above, he appointed the first female judge to the Supreme Court (Sandra Day O’Connor), saw the end of the Cold War and re-energized the role of President as Commander in Chief, using the military against terrorism at home and abroad.

He is famous for many quotes and witticisms, and even after his time in office he remained significant for his honesty about his Alzheimer’s diagnosis and what the progression of the disease can do to those suffering from it. Not only did he go public with his diagnosis long before it was a well-understood disease, but both he and his wife Nancy became major advocates for research, even launching the Ronald and Nancy Reagan Research Institute.

As one physician has said, “ “The awareness of the disease and the push to provide significant resources for research and care really started with (Nancy) Reagan.”

Fact # 14 – There is an aircraft carrier named after Ronald Reagan

Before his death from complications of Alzheimer’s the former President had a Nimitz class aircraft carrier named after him. The USS Ronald Reagan was christened on March 4, 2001. It took five years to build and features two nuclear reactors that will operate for twenty years without any need for refueling.

It is over one thousand feet in length and around 20 stories above the water. It has more than 80 combat aircraft and is manned by a crew of more than six thousand. It should be in service for another 30-plus years. Where is the USS Ronald Reagan? It is an active duty aircraft carrier, meaning you cannot pay a visit. According to its official website, it is “one of America’s most visible symbols of resolve and lethal instruments of war. With Carrier Air Wing FIVE, we form the most effective and agile fighting force in the world.”

Fact # 15 – Famous for movie lines and quotes from his speeches, Ronald Reagan is noted for a lot of “famous lines”.

It is impossible to give a single answer to the question of “which famous line is associated with former president Ronald Reagan?” As we learned earlier, “Tear down this wall” is something he is widely known for saying, and yet some other quotes he is frequently cited for include:

“Win one for the Gipper” – From his 1940 role in “Knute Rockne: All-American”

“How can a president NOT be an actor?” – Responding to a journalist wondering how an actor could run for President

“Honey, I forgot to duck.” – Reporting what he said to Nancy Reagan as she arrived at the hospital following the assassination attempt in 1981

“Even Albert Einstein reportedly needed help on his 1040 form” – Speaking about Tax Reform in 1985

He was so famous for certain lines that an article about his many great quotes referred directly to one of the most famous, titled “Call him the Quipper”, harkening back to his role as the Gipper.

Fact # 16 – He was referred to as the Gipper jokingly, but got a nickname in childhood that was used throughout his entire life and is even referenced in his official statements for the Reagan Presidential Library.

What was Ronald Reagan’s nickname? Nancy Reagan called him Ronnie, and friends called him Ron. Some called him The Gipper, but his actual nickname from childhood was “Dutch”. He got this from his father and it is said that it came about because of a terrible haircut he received in childhood. Known as a “bowl cut” because it used the edges of a bowl to ensure even lengths, young Ronald Reagan’s father is rumored to have said “You look just like a little Dutch boy!” From that point onward, he was nicknamed Dutch, and it stuck throughout the rest of his life.

Fact # 17 He was a main leading man in Hollywood films and a person of great stature in politics, and his height helped to support such traits.

How tall was Ronald Reagan? He was actually only around 6’ 1”, which is tall but not remarkably so. For reference, Donald Trump is the same height and Barack Obama is a few inches taller.

Fact # 18 – Ronald Reagan was the oldest person to be elected President as well as the oldest person to leave office, being 73 years old at the time of his second election and 77 years when he left office

How old was Ronald Reagan when he was elected president? At the time he was first sworn in as President in 1981, Ronald Reagan was 69. When he took his second election four years later, and was sworn in on January 20, 1985, he was 73. This makes him the oldest person to become President. Though Donald Trump was elected at the age of 70, technically putting him as the oldest, Reagan still remains the holder of the title because of his age at the time of his second election win.

Fact # 19 – After completing his time in office, Ronald Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease

Ronald Reagan was hit by a bullet in 1981 and survived it. He underwent surgery to remove a cancerous growth in 1985. He then announced he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s roughly six years after his departure from the White House.

When did Ronald Reagan die? He died at the age of 93 in 2004. How did Ronald Reagan die? His official cause of death was listed as pneumonia. Though many say it was due to complications of Alzheimer’s. Where is Ronald Reagan buried? He was interred at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA on June 11, 2004.