Odria 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 border conflict with Ecuador. He soon achieved the rank of General.
In 1945, Jose Luis Bustamante y Rivero had attained the presidency with the help of APRA. Soon, major disagreements arose between Victor Raul Haya de la Torre, the founder of APRA, and President Bustamante y Rivero. The President disbanded his Aprista cabinet and replaced it with a mostly military one. Odria, a fierce opponent of APRA, was appointed Minister of Government and Police. In 1948, Odria and other right-wing elements urged Bustamante y Rivero to ban APRA. When the President refused, Odria resigned his post. On October 29, 1948, he led a succesful military coup against the government and took over as president.
Odria's presidency, known as the ochenio,was similar to the dictatorship of Juan Peron in Argentina. Odria came down hard on APRA, momentarily pleasing the oligarchy and all others on the Right, but like Peron, 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 regime. It was feared that his dictatorship would run indefinitely so it came as a surprise when Odria allowed national elections in 1956 and announced that he would not be a candidate. He was succeeded by a former president, Manuel Prado y Ugarteche.
National elections were again held in 1962 and Odria ran as a right-wing candidate for the Union Nacional Odriista party. The initial election found none of the three major candidates - Odria, Haya de la Torre and Fernando Belunde Terry - receiving the required one third of the vote. It appeared that Odria 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 Belaunde won with 36% of the vote.