The Reagan Era Timeline
How It All Went Down
Ronald Reagan is born in Illinois.
Reagan Launches Film Career
Ronald Reagan signs a seven-year contract with the Warner Brothers studio in Hollywood, launching a film career that will eventually include roles in more than 50 movies.
Win one for the Gipper
Ronald Reagan portrays Notre Dame football star George Gipp in the film, Knute Rockne, All American. In his most famous scene, Reagan's character lies on his deathbed, encouraging his teammates to play on and "Win one for the Gipper!" The line will later become a staple of Reagan's political speeches.
Reagan in WWII
During World War II, Ronald Reagan serves in the Army Air Force but never leaves Hollywood. Assigned to the 1st Motion Picture Unit, Reagan helps to produce more than 400 training and propaganda films.
Ronald Reagan is elected president of the Screen Actors Guild. In his capacity as leader of the Hollywood actors' union, Reagan testifies before the House Un-American Activities Committee in its investigation of Communist infiltration of the film industry.
Reagan Backs Truman
Ronald Reagan backs Democrat Harry Truman for president in the election of 1948.
Ronald Reagan is divorced by his first wife, actress Jane Wyman. In her divorce filing, Wyman charges Reagan with "mental cruelty." Reagan will later go on to become the first divorced President of the United States.
Reagan Marries Nancy
Ronald Reagan marries his second wife, Nancy Davis, who will become First Lady of the United States nearly three decades later. Nancy is already pregnant with their first child at the time of their wedding.
Reagan Votes Republican
For the first time, registered Democrat Ronald Reagan votes Republican, marking his ballot for Dwight Eisenhower in the presidential election of 1952.
Patti Davis Born
Patti Davis, first child of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, is born in California, just seven months after the Reagans' marriage.
Reagan Registers Republican
Ronald Reagan officially leaves the Democratic Party, registering as a Republican for the first time.
Reagan's Last Film
Ronald Reagan appears in The Killers, a film based on the Ernest Hemingway short story of the same name. The film will be Reagan's last, as the actor will soon abandon Hollywood for politics.
“A Time for Choosing”
Campaigning for Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan delivers a speech called "A Time For Choosing," which encourages conservative voters to meet their "rendezvous with destiny" by voting Republican to "preserve for our children this, the last best hope on earth." The speech fails to rescue Goldwater's flagging campaign, but it marks Reagan's arrival on the national political scene as a rising star of the conservative movement, and becomes known as "The Speech."
Reagan Elected Governor
Ronald Reagan is elected governor of California, defeating incumbent Democrat Pat Brown in a landslide.
Reagan Disrupts Berkeley Protests
Governor Reagan sends in National Guard troops to break up student protests at the University of California at Berkeley.
Reagan Reelected Governor
Ronald Reagan is reelected to a second term as governor of California.
Reagan Loses Primary
Ronald Reagan runs for the presidency, but is defeated by President Gerald Ford (who inherited the office upon Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974) in the Republican primary. Gerald Ford goes on to lose the election to Democrat Jimmy Carter.
Iran Hostage Crisis
Radical Islamic revolutionaries in Iran seize the U.S. Embassy, taking 52 Americans hostage. The hostages will remain in captivity for more than a year, their captivity humiliating the seemingly impotent Carter Administration.
Soviets Invade Afghanistan
The Soviet Union invades Afghanistan, inaugurating a new era of increased confrontation in the Cold War.
Reagan Receives Republican Nomination
Ronald Reagan accepts the Republican Party nomination for president.
Reagan Debates Carter
Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter debate on national television. When Carter attempts to attack Reagan as a dangerous conservative ideologue, Reagan replies with a disarming, "There you go again." Reagan surges ahead in the polls.
Ronald Reagan wins the presidency, crushing incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter in an electoral landslide. The Republican Reagan wins 44 states, compared to just six for Carter.
Ronald Reagan is sworn in as the 40th President of the United States. In his inaugural address, Reagan declares that "Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem."
Ronald Reagan is shot by a deranged would-be assassin named John Hinckley, who hopes –bizarrely—that killing the president will win him the affections of Hollywood actress Jodie Foster. Reagan takes a bullet to the chest, the shell passing within one inch his heart, but goes on to make a speedy recovery.
Reagan Lowers Taxes
Congress passes President Reagan's tax bill, slashing income tax rates by 25% across the board.
First Female Justice
President Reagan appoints Sandra Day O'Connor, the first female justice, to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Addresses House of Commons
Ronald Reagan tells the British House of Commons that "the march of freedom and democracy... will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history."
Marines Deployed to Lebanon
President Reagan deploys American Marines to war-torn Lebanon to participate in an ill-defined peacekeeping mission there.
The United States endures its worst economic recession since the Great Depression. For the first time since the 1930s, the American unemployment rate exceeds 10%. President Reagan's approval ratings fall to an all-time low of 35%.
Leonid Brezhnev Dies
Hardline Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev dies.
President Reagan calls the Soviet Union the "focus of evil in the modern world."
Strategic Defense Initiative
In a nationally televised address, President Reagan unveils his Strategic Defense Initiative, a proposal to build space-based lasers capable of shooting down incoming nuclear missiles. The press will later label the futuristic and expensive plan "Star Wars."
Beiruit Marine Barracks Bombed
A suicide bomber kills 241 American marines stationed as peacekeepers in Beirut, Lebanon.
US Invades Grenada
The United States invades the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada, overthrowing the country's Marxist dictatorship.
Iran Labeled Terrorist Sponsor
The United States officially brands Iran a state sponsor of terrorism.
Born in the USA
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band release Born in the USA, which will become the best-selling record of Springsteen's career and one of the iconic musical productions of the Reagan Era.
The United States dominates the Summer Olympic Games, held in Los Angeles. Benefiting from a Soviet-bloc boycott of the games, American athletes win 83 gold medals—more than four times as many as the second-place Romanians. The Olympic exploits of legendary athletes like gymnast Mary Lou Retton, sprinter Carl Lewis, and diver Greg Louganis fuel a surge in flag-waving American patriotism.
“Morning in America”
Ronald Reagan's reelection campaign unveils its "Morning in America" television ads, which use nostalgic images of America's heartland to help sell the president's optimistic vision.
Congress passes a law banning the diversion of US government funds to support Nicaragua's anticommunist Contra rebels. The Reagan Administration violates the new law, eventually leading to the Iran-Contra Crisis of 1986-87.
Reagan Reelected in Historic Landslide
Ronald Reagan wins a second term as president, defeating Democratic challenger Walter Mondale in another electoral landslide. Reagan wins 59% of the popular vote and every state but Mondale's home of Minnesota. One out of every four registered Democrats crosses party lines to vote for Reagan.
Mikhail Gorbachev Rises to Power
Upon the death of Konstantin Chernenko, Mikhail Gorbachev becomes General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Arms to Iran for Lebanese Hostages
The Reagan Administration begins sending arms to Iran, via Israel, in hopes that the weapons sales will lead the Iranians to pressure their allies in Lebanon to release American hostages. The secret arms shipments violate President Reagan's pledge never to negotiate with terrorists.
Reagan Meets Gorbachev
American President Ronald Reagan meets directly with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev for the first time at a summit meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. The two leaders agree to work to reduce both countries' stockpiles of nuclear weapons.
The space shuttle Challenger explodes shortly after liftoff, killing all six astronauts and one civilian—elementary school teacher Christa McAuliffe—aboard. In a moving tribute delivered a few hours after the disaster, President Reagan says, "The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved good-bye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God."
Meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, American President Ronald Reagan and Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev tentatively agree to a plan to destroy all the world's nuclear weapons. While the proposal will never be enacted, the mere agreement in principle to the idea of such radical arms reductions represents real progress in the Soviet-American relationship.
1986 Midterm Elections
In the midterm elections, Democrats win majorities in both houses of Congress.
A Lebanese magazine breaks the explosive news that the United States has been secretly selling weapons to Iran. The revelation, quickly confirmed by the Iranian government, marks the beginning of the Iran-Contra Scandal.
President Reagan delivers a nationally televised speech to address the Iran arms-for-hostages scandal. "Our government has a firm policy not to capitulate to terrorist demands," he says. "We did not—repeat, did not—trade weapons or anything else for hostages, nor will we."
Attorney General Edwin Meese, a staunch Reagan loyalist, begins an internal investigation into White House involvement in the Iran-Contra Scandal. Meese allows Iran-Contra conspirator Oliver North to shred thousands of potentially incriminating documents before they can be seized as evidence.
Meese Finds Guilt
Attorney General Edwin Meese informs President Reagan that his investigation into the Iran-Contra Scandal has revealed that administration officials did sell arms to Iran in exchange for the release of American hostages, and that the proceeds from those illegal arms sales were diverted to fund the anticommunist Contra rebels in Nicaragua.
Oliver North Fired
President Reagan fires Marine Colonel Oliver North, mastermind of the Iran-Contra operation, from his job with the National Security Council. North's boss, National Security Advisor John Poindexter, resigns. Both men will eventually be convicted of criminal malfeasance for their actions in the Iran-Contra Affair.
In the wake of recent revelations of wrongdoing in the Iran-Contra Affair, polls reveal that President Reagan's approval rating has fallen from 67% to 46% in just one month.
Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh, a Republican, is appointed as independent counsel to investigate Iran-Contra.
President Reagan goes on national TV to deliver a confusing apology for Iran-Contra: "A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages," he says. "My heart and my best intentions tell me that's true, but the facts and evidence tell me it's not."
Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall!
President Reagan delivers a speech in Berlin, calling upon Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev to dismantle the Berlin Wall and open the eastern bloc to greater freedoms. "General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
Moscow Cheers Reagan
Citizens of Moscow cheer President Reagan, who is in the city for a summit meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Reagan Speaks in Moscow
President Reagan, speaking under a gigantic bust of V.I. Lenin, gives a speech to the students of Moscow State University extolling the virtues of capitalism.