From his blue collar upbringing all the way to the Oval Office, this is how Biden ascended to the presidency.
Nov. 20, 1942
Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. is born at St. Mary’s Hospital in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the son of Joseph Robinette Biden Sr., who worked cleaning furnaces and as a used car salesman, and Catherine Eugenia “Jean” Finnegan. He was the oldest child, with a sister, Valerie, and two brothers, Francis and James.
Biden graduates Syracuse College of Law and is admitted to the Delaware bar in 1969. Joe and his wife, Neilia Hunter, a Syracuse University graduate, married since Aug. 27, 1966, move to Wilmington after his graduation from law school. Biden begins work as a clerk at a Wilmington law firm headed by a prominent local Republican, William Prickett. Biden supports a more liberal Republican for governor in 1968 but registers as an independent because of his dislike of Richard Nixon.
Feb. 3, 1969
Joseph Robinette “Beau” Biden III is born. About this time, his dad begins practicing law as a public defender, moving to a firm headed by a locally active Democrat who names him to the Democratic Forum to try and reform the state party. Biden reregisters as a Democrat then forms a law firm with another attorney, supplementing his income by managing commercial properties.
Feb, 4, 1970
Robert Hunter Biden is born. He grows up to be a Washington, DC, attorney and lobbyist and serves as an ensign in the U.S. Navy from 2013-2014.
Nov. 2, 1970
Biden is elected as councilman to the usually Republican fourth county council district of New Castle County, Delaware—which includes Wilmington—serving until 1972 while still practicing law.
Nov. 8, 1971
Daughter Naomi Christina “Amy” Biden born.
Nov. 7, 1972
Biden wins the first of seven elections for U.S. Senate. The Delaware Democratic Party had encouraged Biden to run against the Republican incumbent J. Caleb Boggs, who was running for a third term in the Senate. Biden wins with 50.5% of the vote—an upset victory—to become one of the youngest elected U.S. senators (age 29) in the nation’s history, and the longest-serving senator from Delaware.
Dec. 18, 1972
A car driven by Neilia with the Bidens’ three children rolls past a stop sign in Hockessin, Delaware, and into the path of tractor trailer heading at full speed along Route 7. The impact sends the car 150 feet into an embankment. The accident kills his wife and Biden’s 13-month-old daughter, Amy. Beau breaks his leg; Hunter fractures his skull. Biden is inconsolable and even considers suicide. He recalls, “I began to understand how despair led people to just cash in; how suicide wasn’t just an option but a rational option … I felt God had played a horrible trick on me, and I was angry.”
Jan. 5, 1973
Biden skips the swearing-in ceremony for new senators in Washington and instead takes the oath of office from his son’s hospital room at the Delaware Division of the Wilmington Medical Center, administered by Secretary of the Senate Francis R. Valeo. In order to spend as much time as possible with his sons, Biden decides to continue to live in Wilmington, commuting to and from Washington each day by Amtrak train—90 minutes each way—a practice he maintains through his entire tenure in the Senate.
Biden’s brother sets him up on a blind date with University of Delaware student Jill Tracy Jacobs, from Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. They marry on June 17, 1977.
Biden serves 36 years in the U.S. Senate, where he introduces and/or sponsors over 1,071 bills, resolutions and amendments.
June 9, 1987–Sept. 23, 1987
Biden runs as Democratic candidate for U.S. president—the first of three times he runs for president.
Biden had suffered severe headaches during the campaign. Doctors discover he has two life-threatening intracranial brain aneurysms. Complications from the ensuing brain surgery lead to blood clots in his lungs, which, in turn, cause him to undergo another surgery. Biden returns to the Senate after a seven-month recovery period.
Twenty years after his first unsuccessful presidential bid, Biden once again decides to run for the U.S. presidency against Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Biden drops out after receiving less than 1% of the vote in the crucial Iowa caucuses. Several months later, presidential candidate Obama—having secured the Democratic nomination after a hard-fought campaign against Clinton—selects Biden as his running mate. With his working-class roots, Biden helps the Obama campaign communicate its message of economic recovery to the blue-collar voters crucial to swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Nov. 2, 2008
Barack Obama and Joe Biden defeat Sen. John McCain and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. “This is an historic moment,” Biden said after the election. “I started my career fighting for civil rights, and to be a part of what is both a moment in American history where the best people, the best ideas, the—how can I say it?—the single best reflection of the American people can be called upon—to be at that moment, with a guy who has such incredible talent and who is also a breakthrough figure in multiple ways—I genuinely find that exciting. It’s a new America. It’s the reflection of a new America.”
Jan. 20, 2009
Obama is sworn in as the 44th U.S. president, and Biden becomes the 47th vice president.
Running for re-election in 2012, the Obama-Biden team face Republican challenger Mitt Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, and Romney’s vice-presidential running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Obama defeats Romney in the 2012 election, earning a second term as president and Biden another term as vice president.
Later that year, Biden is instrumental in achieving a bipartisan agreement on tax increases and spending cuts to avoid the fiscal cliff crisis through a deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The bill passes on Jan. 1, 2013.
Around this time, Biden is selected to head up a special task force on gun control after the shooting at a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school the previous December. Biden delivers solutions for reducing gun violence across the nation to President Obama in January 2013. He helps craft 19 actions that the president could take on the issue using his power of executive order, among other recommendations.
May 30, 2015
Biden’s son Beau, an Army Judge Advocate serving in the Iraq War and later Delaware attorney general, dies at age 46 from brain cancer. “Beau Biden was, quite simply, the finest man any of us have ever known,” Biden wrote in a statement about his son. Following this tragedy, Biden considers a run for the presidency, but he puts the speculation to rest in October 2015 when he announces that he will not seek the 2016 Democratic nomination.
Jan. 12, 2017
President Obama presents Biden with the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in a surprise ceremony at the White House. Obama calls Biden “the best vice president America’s ever had” and a “lion of American history,” and told him he was being honored for ‘‘faith in your fellow Americans, for your love of country and a lifetime of service that will endure through the generations.’’ Biden gives an emotional impromptu speech thanking the president; first lady Michelle Obama; his wife, Jill; and his children.
April 25, 2019
Biden announces that he is running for president in 2020.
June 27, 2019
During the first Democratic primary debate in late June, Kamala Harris attacks Biden’s track record. She takes him to task for his opposition to busing as a means of integrating schools in the 1970s.
Feb. 5, 2020
Biden finishes fourth in the Iowa caucuses, calling it a “gut punch,” and then fifth in the New Hampshire primary. But he rebounds with a resounding win in South Carolina at the end of the month and continues his momentum by claiming the majority of delegates from Super Tuesday voting in early March, his surge driving most of his top competitors from the race.
Aug. 11, 2020
Biden announces Kamala Harris as his vice-presidential running mate. “I have the great honor to announce that I’ve picked Kamala Harris—a fearless fighter for the little guy and one of the country’s finest public servants—as my running mate,” Biden said. “Back when Kamala was attorney general, she worked closely with Beau. I watched as they took on the big banks, lifted up working people and protected women and kids from abuse. I was proud then, and I’m proud now to have her as my partner in this campaign.”
Aug. 18, 2020
Biden officially becomes the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee.
Nov. 3, 2020
With several states counting mail-in ballots well past the close of polling places, the race remains too tight to call. However, the tide begins shifting in Biden’s favor with the announcements of his victories in Wisconsin and Michigan, along with reports of his leads in Arizona, Nevada and Georgia.
Nov. 7, 2020
Four days after election day, and exactly 48 years after his first win as Senator, Biden was declared as the apparent 46th president-elect after winning Pennsylvania. Along with earning a record-breaking 80 million-plus votes, the soon-to-be 78-year-old was set to become the oldest president in the nation’s history. “America, I’m honored that you have chosen me to lead our great country,” Biden tweeted. “The work ahead of us will be hard, but I promise you this: I will be a president for all Americans—whether you voted for me or not. I will keep the faith that you have placed in me.”
This story originally appeared in the January issue as part of a special Inauguration feature. For more stories like this, subscribe to our monthly magazine.