Bush was born in Milton, Mass., on June 12, 1924. He enrolled as a pilot in the Navy when he was 18 and fought in World War II. He attended Yale University, where he earned an economics degree and made Phi Beta Kappa, and then moved to Odessa, Texas, to join an oil field-supply firm that was a subsidiary of Dresser Industries, on whose board his father sat. Dresser was acquired in 1998 by its competitor, Halliburton Co. After his apprenticeship Bush settled in Midland, Texas, and helped start a new business buying and developing oil leases.
With two partners, brothers Hugh and William Liedtke, Bush founded Zapata Petroleum Co. in 1953, the name inspired by the 1952 Marlon Brando film "Viva Zapata!" By the end of the 1950s, Bush had moved his family to Houston and was running an offshoot of Zapata that churned out profits from high-risk offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
He launched his political career in 1967 and served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas.
After an unsuccessful campaign for a U.S. Senate seat representing Texas, President Richard Nixon appointed Bush ambassador to the United Nations in 1971. He later served as the chairman of the Republican National Committee.
President Gerald Ford then appointed Bush as Chief of the U.S. Liaison Office of the People's Republic of China in 1974. In his last position before running for president, Bush became the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Although Bush lost the 1980 Republican nomination to Ronald Reagan, he was chosen by Reagan to join the national ticket as vice president.
Bush became president in early 1989 after defeating Democrat Michael Dukakis in the 1988 general election. Administration officials declared the White House under Bush would herald a new balance for the auto industry, between a barrage of new safety and emissions standards during the 1970s and the deregulation and lack of government access by consumer and environmental activists during the Reagan years.
Longtime safety advocate Ralph Nader was again allowed access to government data and information.
The late Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety at the time, told Automotive News in 1989 he sensed something different under the Bush White House.
The Regan administration consisted of those who were "true ideologues who campaigned on deregulation and did not care about public opinion," Ditlow said. "Bush does not come from the same ideological bent. He is responsive to public opinion; you see it with the environment and with the management of the Exxon oil spill (which occurred in 1989)."
Bush proposed reauthorizing the Clean Air Act in April of 1989 with an amendment that would require automakers to sell 1 million "clean-fuel" vehicles each year by 1997. It was the first presidential plan for a clean-air bill in 10 years.