Born to humble beginnings in 1911, Ronald Wilson Reagan moved with his family several times around the state of Illinois. He was made unusual growing up because of his attitudes concerning race. When a local inn would enforce its policy against providing lodging for black guests, Reagan would invite the people turned away to come to his home, where his mother would provide a bed for them for the night and offered them breakfast in the morning.
After high school, Reagan attended Eureka College to study economics and sociology. The first inklings of his political future were seen here, as he was elected student body President. After graduating in 1932, he worked as a radio announcer for a number of years before settling into her career as an actor. In this, Reagan proved successful, eventually starring in major motion pictures of his day. Having signed up for the Army Enlisted Reserve, Reagan's private film career was interrupted when he was called to active duty for World War II, but with sub-par eyesight excluding him from combat or even overseas duty, he found cinema work even in the military, and was assigned to help produce training films.
Reagan grew up and spent his youth as a liberal Democrat, but his political views evolved in a more conservative direction over time, and by 1960 he had switched to the Republican party. He successfully ran for Governor of the state of California in 1967, and served in that capacity until 1975. His presidential ambitions were initially frustrated when he failed to win his party's nomination a year later, but he tried again in 1980, this time winning the Republican nomination, and ultimately defeating incumbent President Jimmy Carter in the general election. By doing this, he became the oldest President in American history.
Reagan is renowned for the staunchly conservative principles he practiced during his presidency. This reputation is largely deserved, but not entirely. He did raise taxes on many occasions (11 is the oft-quoted number), though this was after a substantial tax cut shortly after he took office. He also spoke favorably of and even signed into law blanket amnesty for any illegal immigrants living in the country, a point of considerable consternation for many modern conservatives when they are made to discuss it.
Nevertheless, Reagan was famously tough on foreign policy, refusing to back down against the intimidation of the Soviet Union. At home, he championed “trickle-down economics” and was kind to businesses and, at times, hostile to unions. And as a man whose religious faith had been important to him since childhood, he abhorred a Supreme Court decision banning prayer in public schools and fought hard (if unsuccessfully) for a constitutional amendment to specifically allow it.
In 1981, Reagan was attacked by crazed gunman John Hinckley, Jr. during a public appearance, when Hickley repeatedly discharged a revolver at the President. Reagan was shot once, with other bullets either missing or hitting others in his entourage (including Secret Service agent Timothy Mccarthy, who deliberately took a bullet for Reagan). By being rushed to a nearby hospital, Reagan was able to be treated in time. His strong faith led him to the belief that God had spared his life so that he could fulfill a “greater purpose”. He remains the only President in American history to survive an assassination attempt.
Reagan enjoyed a two-term presidency, leaving office in 1989 to be replaced by George HW Bush, who had served as his Vice President. He is the most recent President to have passed away (he died in 2004 after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease), and has already gone down in history as a stalwart conservative icon to whom modern Republicans strive to compare favorably.