Ronald Reagan was the son of an Irish immigrant shoe salesman. He was born in Tampico, Illinois, and graduated in economics from Eureka College, Illinois. He worked as a sportscaster in Des Moines before being signed as a film actor by Warner Brothers in 1937. Although a capable actor in over 50 films, Reagan never became a big 'star'. He was president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1947 to 1952, which kindled an interest in politics. Following his marriage to the actress Nancy Davis, Reagan, who was originally a liberal Democrat and admirer of Franklin D. Roosevelt, moved to Republicanism.
He was elected Governor of California in 1966. After one unsuccessful attempt, he obtained the party's nomination as presidential candidate in 1980 and convincingly defeated the Democrat President, Jimmy Carter, after a campaign in which he stressed reduction of taxes, deregulation of the economy and strengthening America's defences. He subsequently formed a close alliance with Margaret Thatcher, whose views mirrored his own in many ways.
During his second term as President, Reagan, the one-time arch hawk, advocating a space-based 'Star Wars' defence system, became a convert to detente with the USSR. He held four summit meetings with Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader between 1985 and 1988 which resulted in the scrapping of intermediate-range nuclear missiles. This led in turn to the ending of the Cold War between the USSR and the West, releasing the world from the fear of a world-wide nuclear war, and freeing Eastern European states from Soviet domination. This is seen as Reagan's greatest achievement.