This selective listing includes the novel's more noteworthy characters.
The world-renowned former head of the Department of Philosophy at Patrick Henry University in Cleveland, Dr. Akston taught John Galt, Francisco d'Anconia, and Ragnar Danneskjöld. He is later persuaded by his former students to join their strike, and takes a lowly job flipping hamburgers in a roadside diner in Wyoming. On the trail of "the destroyer," Dagny discovers Akston there—and his answers to her questions reveal that he too is one of the strikers.
Owner of Atwood Light and Power Company, he joins the strike, becoming a shoemaker and owner of Atwood Leather Goods in Galt's Gulch.
The sleazy mayor of Rome, Wisconsin, who briefly owns the Twentieth Century Motor Company in a bankruptcy sale after the failure of Eugene Lawson's Community National Bank.
President of Associated Steel, Boyle conspires with James Taggart and the government to destroy his hated competitor, Hank Rearden, and seize the rights to produce Rearden Metal.
The chief dispatcher of Taggart's Colorado division, he quits rather than carry out Dave Mitchum's order to send a coal-burning locomotive through the Taggart Tunnel.
An unsophisticated shop clerk, Cherryl innocently becomes enamored of James Taggart, whom she believes to be a great man, and later accepts his proposal of marriage. As his wife, she finally discovers the horrifying truth about his character, and commits suicide.
Bureaucrat-turned-politician, he pressures James Taggart to let his campaign train run through a Colorado tunnel with a dangerous coal-burning locomotive, which leads to a major disaster.
The moral antithesis of Fred Kinnan, Colby is the honest, hardworking leader of the union of steelworkers at Rearden Steel. He and Rearden respect each other as allies, not adversaries.
President of the Phoenix-Durango Railroad, Conway is forced out of business in an industry conspiracy engineered by James Taggart.
Founder of Danagger Coal, he works secretly to supply Hank Rearden with coal, in violation of government regulations. While under indictment, he quits and joins Galt's strike.
One of the novel's great heroes, along with John Galt and Hank Rearden. The spectacularly able president of d'Anconia Copper and Dagny Taggart's first lover, Francisco is the first man to join Galt's strike—and he gives up Dagny to do so. He adopts the guise of an international playboy as camouflage while he deliberately destroys his industrial empire over a period of years. Francisco is also one of the strike's best recruiters, and his speeches on the moral meaning of money and on sex help to liberate Hank Rearden from guilt. Galt's closest friend, he's also his and Rearden's rival for Dagny's love.
Founder of d'Anconia Copper, and the revered ancestor of Francisco d'Anconia.
A talented young scientist, he chooses to be night watchman rather than serve the government. Dagny hires him to try to rebuild the motor she and Rearden discover at the abandoned Twentieth Century Motor Company. When he's recruited by Galt, Dagny follows their plane to Galt's Gulch.
College friend of Francisco and Galt, and budding young philosopher, Ragnar is the third to go on strike. A man of implacable justice, he becomes a feared pirate who sinks government relief ships. He marries the beautiful actress Kay Ludlow.
The proclaimed literary leader of the age whose plotless novels don't sell, he decries commercialism and materialism.
Top Coordinator of State Science Institute. Like the Nazi "scientists," Ferris has the soul of a thug, and works to harness science to serve the dictatorship. He blackmails Rearden to surrender the patent rights to Rearden Metal, and later urges the torture of John Galt with his machine, the "Ferris Persuader."
The main hero of Atlas Shrugged , immortalized in the slang expression, "Who is John Galt? A young scientific genius working at the Twentieth Century Motor Company, he invents an extraordinary new motor—but leaves it to rust and dust when the company institutes a socialistic pay system. Realizing what is wrong with the world, he quits his job, goes on strike, and takes a job as a laborer at Taggart Transcontinental. While working there he falls in love with Dagny, secretly and from afar. He also begins his surreptitious effort to persuade the world's other creative "Atlases" to join his strike, and to withdraw to "Galt's Gulch," his hidden haven in the Colorado Rockies. For much of the novel we see him only as a shadowy figure, and as Eddie Willers' nameless friend and confidante in the railroad's cafeteria. Meanwhile, Dagny believes him to be two men: the "destroyer" who is "draining the world of its brains," and the inventor of the revolutionary motor she's found. She begins a quest to find "both" men—and discovers that "they" are one when she crash-lands her plane in Galt's Gulch. At the novel's climax Galt reveals himself to the world by delivering a long radio speech explaining the moral reasons for his strike.
A brilliant, unheralded composer who achieves belated recognition after a long, grueling struggle. On his night of triumph, Halley retires and vanishes.
Owner of Hammond Cars, maker of the nation's finest automobiles, and another recruit to Galt's Gulch.
Taggart Transcontinental's aging, loyal chief clerk.
The former chief engineer of Twentieth Century Motor Company, where he was John Galt's boss. He was an early recruit to Galt's strike, but has died several years before the novel opens.
The gracious, dignified widow of William Hastings, and one of the people Dagny interviews on the trail of the inventor of the motor.
A renowned physician and medical researcher, he goes on strike when medicine is socialized.
An influential Washington bureaucrat allied to Orren Boyle and Wesley Mouch.
Ex-president of Amalgamated Service Corporation, which took over the bankrupt Twentieth Century Motor Company. His successful lawsuit against banker Midas Mulligan for not giving him a loan prompts Mulligan to join the strike.
Hank Rearden's loyal, supremely competent secretary.
An elderly, has-been British author, friend of Kip Chalmers, and advocate of collectivism, he dies in the Taggart Tunnel disaster.
The skilled young assistant to the manager of Taggart Terminal, he resigns and vanishes to Galt's Gulch. Dagny later meets him on a train while hunting for "the destroyer," where she realizes that he's now one of "the destroyer's" men.
The union boss of Amalgamated Labor of America, Kinnan is a corrupt power-seeker—but loyal to his men, and more bluntly honest than the rest of the Washington gang with whom he conspires. He respects Dagny and Galt.
An old business friend of Rearden and his family, Larkin is a loser and weakling. He betrays Rearden in order to obtain political influence, and later fails to deliver to him iron ore from the very mines that Rearden was forced to sell to him.
The former head of the Community National Bank in Wisconsin, which he bankrupts with his collectivist "humanitarian" loan policies. He then joins the Bureau of Economic Planning and National Resources.
A third-rate composer of film scores and modern symphonies, Liddy plunders his melodic themes from great musicians such as Richard Halley.
A crony of Jim Taggart's who replaces Dagny as Operating Vice-President when she temporarily resigns to build the John Galt Line. Evading responsibility at every turn, he causes chaos—including the Taggart Tunnel disaster.
The engineer chosen to run the first train on the John Galt Line.
A famous and beautiful actress who, because of the decline of artistic standards, goes on strike and retires to Galt's Gulch. She becomes Ragnar Danneskjöld's wife.
President of Marsh Electric of Colorado, he vows to chain himself to his desk rather than quit. But eventually he, too, joins the strike.
A competent Cleveland contractor to Taggart Transcontinental, he goes on strike and eventually becomes a utilities engineer in Galt's Gulch.
Director of Unification and Railroad Unification Plan, Meigs is a superstitious, anti-intellectual thug. When the economy nears collapse, he seizes control of the government's "Project X" weapon to establish himself as a local dictator. Drunk, Meigs accidentally causes an enormous explosion that devastates much of the Midwest, and destroys the vital Taggart Bridge over the Mississippi River.
Superintendent of Taggart Transcontinental's Colorado Division, Mitchum got his job only because he was Claude Slagenhop's brother-in-law. His decision to let a coal-burning locomotive run Kip Chalmers' campaign train into the Taggart Tunnel leads to disaster.
The government's "Morale Conditioner" and chief propagandist. He helps engineer a TV broadcast to show Galt to the nation; when it backfires, he resigns and flees.
A failure in the private sector, Mouch turns to politics. He is hired as Rearden's Washington lobbyist, whom he betrays in exchange for a top government job with the Bureau of Economic Planning and National Resources. A faceless nobody who constantly pleads for "wider powers," he is regarded as "safe"—and is promoted, step-by-step, as a compromise candidate, until he becomes the nation's economic dictator.
Vapid head of Amalgamated Switch and Signal Company, he manages to succeed only through cultivating government favors.
Brash, colorful owner of the Mulligan Bank of Chicago, early investor in Rearden Steel, and the world's richest man. Midas Mulligan goes on strike and vanishes when a court orders him to make a risky loan to Lee Hunsacker to take over the Twentieth Century Motor Company. Mulligan then buys a remote valley in the Colorado Rockies that he secretly develops as "Gult's Gulch."
An eminent legal scholar and Illinois Superior Court justice, Judge Narragansett goes on strike after his decision against Hunsacker is overturned by a higher court. He becomes the arbiter of disputes in Galt's Gulch.
Contractor friend of James Taggart who takes over construction of the John Galt Line when the railroad's best contractor, McNamara, quits. He is hostile and resentful of Dagny's demands for competent work.
President of Nielsen Motors of Colorado and an investor in the John Galt Line. Nielsen goes on strike when the Line is shut down, and moves to the Gulch, where he becomes a lumberjack.
A slovenly society girl and James Taggart's mistress.
Lackey of Floyd Ferris at the State Science Institute who tries to coerce Rearden into selling his Metal to the government.
Head of the Philosophy Department at Patrick Henry University after Hugh Akston retires. A sophist who derides the power of reason, he's a valued intellectual excuse-maker for the Washington gang.
Iron-willed inventor, and founder of the Rearden Steel empire, Hank Rearden is, with Francisco and Galt, one of the novel's three major heroes. Rearden's quest to understand and resolve his moral and emotional conflicts is central to the plot. His revolutionary new alloy, Rearden Metal, makes him a target of predators in government, industry, and his own family. He becomes Dagny's secret lover, and to protect her reputation, surrenders his Metal to the government in a blackmail scheme hatched by his wife. Rearden ultimately is rescued, literally and spiritually, by Francisco d'Anconia.
The society woman whom Rearden marries because of her seeming admiration. But she's really devoid of any passion or purpose save the desire to acquire a feeling of power by controlling and manipulating him. A soul mate of James Taggart and a supporter of the Washington gang, she is the source of the secret information that is used as blackmail against Rearden in order to deprive him of Rearden Metal.
Rearden's petulant and parasitical mother, who berates him for the very achievements and virtues that maintain her comfortable lifestyle.
Hank's purposeless younger brother criticizes his "materialism" and professes motivations "higher" than money-making; but that doesn't stop him from living off Rearden's wealth—or betraying him.
Owner of Sanders Aircraft, the finest planes available. He joins the strike when the government destroys his business.
A drunk who keeps his union job as a railroad engineer only because of his friendship with Fred Kinnan. He is at the throttle of the Comet, intoxicated, during its fateful trip into the Taggart Tunnel.
Editor of a left-wing rag, The Future; author of a scathing article about Hank Rearden titled "The Octopus"; and a foe of freedom, wealth, and industrialists. His interview with Dagny on his radio talk show backfires when she reveals the government's blackmail scheme against Rearden to seize control of Rearden Metal.
Pal of Philip Rearden, brother-in-law of Dave Mitchum, and head of Friends of Global Progress, a militant and influential socialist group.
The world's greatest physicist, Stadler was head of the Physics Department at Patrick Henry University. There he vied with Hugh Akston for the loyalties of students Francisco, Ragnar, and John Galt. But believing that force, not reason, is the only practical way to deal with people, Stadler surrenders his independence and becomes a stooge of the government. When Stadler endorses the foundation of the State Science Institute, Galt leaves the school and damns him. Stadler becomes the Institute's titular head, lending his prestige to the organization and focusing on "pure theory," while Floyd Ferris runs the "practical" side, transforming Stadler's theories into deadly weapons for the government. By the end, Stadler's is the loudest voice calling for the murder of John Galt, the student he once loved. In fitting irony, Stadler dies in the "Project X" explosion.
Youngest of the three worthless heirs of Jed Starnes, founder of the Twentieth Century Motor Company, Eric becomes the company's director of public relations until it is bankrupted by the socialist scheme imposed by its siblings. In a final act of impotent malice, he avenges himself on a girl who had rejected him, committing suicide in her bedroom on her wedding day.
Another of the Starnes heirs. As director of production at the Twentieth Century Motors, Gerald helped sister Ivy hatch the disastrous socialist plan that ruins the firm. He winds up a bum in a flophouse.
A militant socialist, Starnes heir Ivy was the Twentieth Century Motor Company's director of distribution. Blaming human nature for the failure of their redistribution-of-wealth scheme, she turns for solace to Eastern mystical cults that preach self-sacrifice.
The novel's indomitable heroine and main viewpoint character. Dagny is Vice-President in Charge of Operations at Taggart Transcontinental, the railroad established by her ancestor, Nat Taggart. She struggles to protect and save her business from government coercion, and from the irrationality of her brother James, the company president. Against such interference, she builds the John Galt Line from track made of Rearden Metal. At the same time, she struggles to discover the motives and the identities of what seem to be two mysterious men: one, a "destroyer" who is deliberately draining the world of its most capable producers; the other, an inventor who has produced revolutionary motor whose fragments she finds in the ruins of the Twentieth Century Motor Company. She hires Quentin Daniels to try to reconstruct the motor. Then, when the hated "destroyer" recruits him, too, she pursues them by plane and crash-lands in Galt's Gulch. There she discovers that the "destroyer" and the inventor are the same man—John Galt—and soon, she finds herself falling in love with the enemy she swore to kill. She is the last to join the strike, and the novel's plot centers around her struggle to grasp the reasons for it.
Dagny's older brother, president of Taggart Transcontinental, and the novel's main villain. A nihilist motivated by an envy of the competent and hatred of the good, James thwarts Dagny's every effort to salvage the railroad—and uses his government connections to destroy his competitors. His power, reputation, wealth, and even survival are maintained only by Dagny's heroic efforts to save their company. He marries an innocent shop girl Cherryl, first attracted by her blind admiration, but becomes enraged when she begins to see through him and eventually drives her to suicide. At the story's end, his psychological destruction comes as he's screaming for Galt's murder, then grasps that this would mean his own destruction as well—but realizes that his death still doesn't matter.
The great 19th century founder of Taggart Transcontinental, revered by Dagny. His statue in the heart of the Taggart Terminal is a kind of spiritual shrine for her, and his courage and vision helps to inspire her desperate desire to save the railroad.
Head of State and a crafty pragmatist who believes everyone is open to compromise. When his goons capture Galt, Mr. Thompson tries futilely to persuade the inventor to take charge of the collapsing economy, tempting him with money and the trappings of power. When that fails, Mr. Thompson finally agrees to use torture.
A tragic product of modern education, Tony is an utterly amoral relativist. Sent by the government to be "Deputy Director of Distribution" at Rearden's mills, the young man is really there to spy on Rearden. But slowly he comes to admire the industrialist. When the government launches a violent attack on Rearden's mills, Tony gets wind of it and tries to stop them—but is murdered for his efforts.
Hard-working president of Ward Harvester Company who tries to keep his family business going by dealing with Rearden Steel.
A bureaucrat lieutenant of Wesley Mouch exuding a candid, easy manner, he becomes Dagny's conduit in dealing with Washington.
Dagny's indispensable Special Assistant—a lonely, dutiful man of great integrity but modest ability, loyal to Dagny since childhood. Eddie is befriended by a lowly Taggart employee whom he meets in the cafeteria, and who becomes his private sounding board about Dagny and the railroad's problems. Eddie doesn't discover until too late that he loves Dagny—and that his attentive friend was John Galt.
The hot-tempered young entrepreneur and inventor who founds Wyatt Oil in Colorado, his company is a pillar of the economy. Wyatt becomes a friend of Dagny and Rearden, as an investor in the John Galt Line. But when the government imposes a tax on Colorado that will bleed his business dry, he torches his oilfields in rebellion and joins the strike. One well fire can't be quenched, and becomes a symbol of the strike known as "Wyatt's Torch."