Nicolae Ceaușescu was born in Scorniceşti village, Olt County, Oltenia, Romania.
Legend has it that while employed as a shoe-maker's apprentice he was wandering through a railway station and stole a piece of luggage. When he was caught by police the suitcase was full of Communist Party flyers; thus he was arrested as a Communist and imprisoned at Doftana together with other Communists.
A member of the illegal Romanian Communist Party (PCR) in the period before World War II, Ceauşescu was imprisoned in 1936 and in 1940. After World War II, when Romania fell under Soviet influence, Ceauşescu served as secretary of the Union of Communist Youth (1944-1945). After the Communists seized power in Romania in 1947, he headed the ministry of agriculture, and then served as deputy minister of the armed forces. Under Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej's Stalinist regime, Ceauşescu rose to occupy the second highest position in the party hierarchy.
With the death of Gheorghiu-Dej in March 1965, Ceauşescu became leader of the PCR, and then president of the State Council, in 1967. He soon become a popular figure, due to his independent policy, challenging the supremacy of the Soviet Union in Romania. In the 1960s Ceauşescu ended Romania's active participation in the Warsaw Pact military alliance.
Ceauşescu followed an independent policy in foreign relations. For example in 1984 Romania was one of only two Communist ruled countries to take part in the American organized 1984 Summer Olympics. Romania was also the first of the Eastern Bloc to have official relations with the European Community: an agreement including Romania in the Community's Generalized System of Preferences was signed in 1974 and an Agreement on Industrial Products was signed in 1980.
However, Ceauşescu refused any liberal reforms. The secret police (Securitate) maintained firm control over free speech and the media, and tolerated no internal opposition. The situation worsened in the 1980s. To pay back the foreign debt accumulated for accelerated industrialization in the previous decade, Ceauşescu ordered the export of much of the country's agricultural and industrial production. The resulting shortage of food, lack of energy, medicines, etc., made the everyday life of Romanian citizens a fight for survival. Ceauşescu also instituted a North Korean-style personality cult and invested his wife, Elena Ceauşescu, and the members of his family in high posts in the government.
Beginning in 1972, Ceauşescu instituted a program of systematization. Promoted as a way to build a "multilaterally developed socialist society," the program of demolition, resettlement, and construction began in the countryside, but culminated with an attempt to completely remodel the country's capital. Over one fifth of central Bucharest, including churches and historic buildings, was demolished during Ceauşescu's rule in the 1980s so the city could be rebuilt in a socialist style.
Ceauşescu's regime collapsed after he ordered regular military forces and Securitate to fire on anti-Communist demonstrators in the city of Timişoara on December 17, 1989. The rebellion spread to Bucharest, and on December 22 the army fraternized with the demonstrators. Ceauşescu and his wife fled the capital in a helicopter - an aide held a gun to the pilot's head. The pilot landed after faking an engine failure, and the Ceauşescus were captured by the armed forces at a road block. On December 25 the two were condemned to death by a military kangaroo court on a range of charges including genocide, and were executed by firing squad in Târgovişte. Romania was the only Eastern Bloc country to violently overthrow its Communist regime.
After the fall of Nicolae Ceauşescu, Ion Iliescu won the Romanian presidential election in 1990.