The novel’s protagonist and vice president in charge of operations of Taggart Transcontinental. Dagny is Galt’s greatest love and worst enemy. Her brilliant management style and unwavering commitment to the railroad enable her to remain in the world of the “looters”—Rand’s word for the people and government agencies that seize property from capitalists—and to keep her railroad running despite the growing chaos. In so doing, she continues to provide the looters with transportation that sustains their system. She mistakenly believes the looters are capable of reason and will understand their mistakes before it is too late. When she realizes the looters are in fact agents of death, she withdraws and is the last to join the strike.
The greatest of the nation’s industrialists, Rearden is a steel baron with an astonishing capacity to produce. He is also Dagny’s lover for most of the novel. Rearden represents a threat to the strikers because he continues to fight for his mills and inadvertently props up the looters’ regime. His main flaw is his willingness to accept the looters’ idea that he is obligated to serve others. When he finally gives up this premise, he sees the looters’ system for what it is and joins the strike.
The man around whom the action of the novel revolves, Galt organizes and leads the strike of the mind. He is simultaneously the destroyer, the inventor of the revolutionary motor, Eddie’s mysterious friend, and Dagny’s greatest love. Brilliant and perceptive, he is the physical and intellectual representation of man’s ideal.
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An enormously wealthy and brilliant industrialist, Francisco is the first to join Galt’s strike and the man who pays the highest price for it, losing his first and only love, Dagny. Francisco works as the strike’s most active recruiter, focusing much of his attention on Rearden. By pretending to be a worthless playboy, Francisco is able to hide his efforts to destroy d’Anconia copper and thereby keep it out of the hands of the looters.
Dagny’s brother and president of Taggart Transcontinental. An inferior businessman, Jim excels at influence peddling and becomes highly skilled at manipulating the system. Though he claims to be motivated by both personal wealth and public service, his true motive is destruction of the productive. Jim carefully represses the nature of his depravity, but his final encounter with John Galt completely shatters his illusions.
Dagny’s assistant at Taggart and a hard worker dedicated to the preservation of the railroad. Through his friendship with the mysterious track worker in the cafeteria, Eddie unwittingly provides the destroyer with valuable information about Dagny and the railroad.
Hank Rearden’s lifeless, beautiful wife. Lillian is dominated by a hatred of the good, and her purpose in life is to destroy her husband. Unlike Jim, who shares her need for destruction but deludes himself that he has other motivations, Lillian is honest with herself about her goals.
An oil tycoon who sparks the growth of Colorado’s industry through his innovations. When the government burdens Colorado with impossible regulations and demands, Wyatt refuses to cooperate and withdraws. Leaving nothing behind for the looters, he sets fire to his wells, creating the spectacular and symbolic Wyatt’s Torch.
A notorious pirate and one of the first strikers. Danneskjold fights the looters on their own violent terms. A reverse Robin Hood, he steals from the parasites and returns wealth to the productive.
Once a brilliant professor and scientist who taught physics to Galt, Danneskjold, and Francisco at Patrick Henry University, Stadler is the disillusioned head scientist at the State Science Institute. He allows the looters to appropriate his mind.
A philosopher who champions reason, Akston taught Galt, Danneskjold, and Francisco at Patrick Henry University. He joins the strike early on, after society proclaims the death of reason. He works as a short-order cook in a diner.
Originally Rearden’s “Washington Man,” Mouch is a mediocre bureaucrat who rises to the role of economic dictator through his betrayal of Rearden and his well-placed connections.
The corrupt owner of Associated Steel. Although his product is inferior to Rearden’s, he uses his government connections to protect his business and obtain the rights to make Rearden Metal.
A young, idealistic hero worshipper who marries Jim, mistakenly believing he is a good man. Jim seeks to destroy her and the good she represents, and is ultimately successful.
A young bureaucrat sent by the government to watch over Rearden’s mills. Though he starts out as a cynical follower of the looters’ code, his experience at the mills transforms him, and he comes to respect and admire the producers.
A talented employee of Taggart and one of the first men in the novel to retire mysteriously.
The most successful banker of all time and the owner of the valley where the strikers live. Mulligan withdrew from society after realizing that he cannot thrive in a system that rewards need over ability.
The legal mind that champions the freedom of individuals to produce and trade free of government intervention. He is one of the strikers who live in the valley.
The head of the State Science Institute and author of Why Do You Think You Think? Ferris rejects the mind and recognizes only bald power. He leads the faction that seeks to kill John Galt instead of working with him and jeopardizing its own power.
The Head of State, Thompson is pragmatic and driven only by the immediacy of the moment. He cynically believes that everyone, including Galt, is willing to cut a deal in exchange for power. He is genuinely stunned when Galt rejects his offer.
A brilliant composer who joins the strike after his work is praised only for having been borne of suffering. His fifth concerto is played throughout the strikers’ valley.
The owner of the Phoenix-Durango Line in Colorado, who disappears after Taggart uses his influence to destroy his railroad with the Anti-dog-eat-dog Rule.
A self-made Pennsylvania coal producer and friend of Rearden’s. He recognizes the irrationality of the looters’ laws and breaks them. He joins the strike after he is arrested for making illegal deals with Rearden.
Hank Rearden’s parasitic brother. He lives off of Rearden’s accomplishments while simultaneously criticizing him for pursuing them.