Manuel Odría was born in 1897 in Tarma, a city in the central Andes just east of Lima. He graduated first in his class from the Chorillos Military Academy in 1915. He joined the army and as a lieutenant-colonel was a war hero in the 1941 Ecuadorian-Peruvian war. He soon achieved the rank of General.
In 1945, José Bustamante had attained the presidency with the help of the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA). Soon, major disagreements arose between Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre, the founder of APRA, and President Bustamante. The President disbanded his Aprista cabinet and replaced it with a mostly military one. Odría, a fierce opponent of APRA, was appointed Minister of Government and Police. In 1948, Odría and other right-wing elements urged Bustamante to ban APRA. When the President refused, Odría resigned his post. On October 29, 1948, he led a successful military coup against the government and took over as president.
Odría came down hard on APRA, momentarily pleasing the oligarchy and all others on the right, but like Perón, he followed a populist course that won him great favor with the poor and lower classes. A thriving economy allowed him to indulge in expensive but crowd-pleasing social policies. At the same time, however, civil rights were severely restricted and corruption was rampant throughout his régime. It was feared that his dictatorship would run indefinitely so it came as a surprise when Odría allowed national elections in 1956 and announced that he would not be a candidate. He was succeeded by a former president, Manuel Prado.
National elections were again held in 1962 and Odría ran as a right-wing candidate for the Unión Nacional Odriista party. The initial election found none of the three major candidates - Odría, Haya de la Torre and Fernando Belaúnde - receiving the required one third of the vote. It appeared that Odría would win the Presidency in Congress, after having made a deal with Haya de la Torre, but a military coup removed President Prado from office only a few days before his term ended. Elections were again held in 1963 with the same three major candidates. This time Belaúnde won with 36% of the vote.
During the Belaúnde Administration, Odría made an alliance with Haya de la Torre to create a single opposition block in Parliament, which became known as the APRA-UNO Coalition. As a political force, they managed to create a strong parliamentary force against President Belaúnde, who was forced to make important concessions to the Coalition in order to get most of his party-sponsored legislation enacted. The Coalition suffered a setback after losing the elections for mayor in the capital, Lima.
After the military coup that overthrew Belaúnde, Odría kept a low profile in Peruvian politics until his death in 1974.