“Who is John Galt?” asks a man who is walking along the streets of New York City, noticing the grime on the buildings and the cracks in the skyscrapers. Every fourth store is out of business, with windows dark and empty. For some unknown reason, talented people are retiring and disappearing. Pessimism and hopelessness rule.
Dagny Taggart, vice president of Taggart Transcontinental Railroad (TTR), aims to repair the crumbling Rio Norte line that serves the booming industrial area of Colorado. The state is one of the few places in not only the United States but also the world that is still prosperous, largely because of Ellis Wyatt’s innovative ideas about extracting oil from shale. Other countries have become socialist states and are destitute.
James Taggart, Dagny’s brother and president of TTR, tries to prevent his sister from getting new rail from Rearden Steel, the last reliable steel manufacturer. Industrialist Hank Rearden has developed a promising new alloy, but one that does not have the approval of most metallurgists. James would rather give the business to his friend, Orren Boyle, head of the inefficient Associated Steel. TTR’s financial problems worsen when its San Sebastian line is nationalized by the Mexican government. The line, which had cost millions of dollars to construct, had been expected to serve copper mines that are run by an Argentine, Francisco d’Anconia, the world’s wealthiest copper industrialist and a former lover of Dagny. D’Anconia, a dissolute playboy, has led his investors astray, thereby contributing to the general unrest.
James, in an effort to revive his company, uses his political clout to persuade the National Alliance of Railroads to pass a rule prohibiting competition. The legislation puts the well-run Phoenix-Durango Railroad, Taggart’s competition, out of business. D’Anconia tells Dagny that he deliberately mismanaged his Mexican copper mines to damage d’Anconia Copper and TTR. Dagny is baffled, since d’Anconia had been a brilliant and productive leader.
Rearden and wife celebrate their wedding anniversary. Rearden’s mother, brother, and wife argue that the strong are morally obliged to support the weak. Although Rearden regards the three of them with contempt, he goes along and provides for them.
Dagny and Rearden manage to build the Rio Norte line, despite an incompetent contractor and an overwhelming climate of pessimism. Rearden uses his metal to build an innovative bridge, but the State Science Institute tries to bribe him to keep the metal off the market. In retaliation for Rearden’s refusal to cooperate, the institute issues a statement alleging possible weaknesses in the structure of Rearden’s metal. Taggart’s stock crashes, the contractor walks off the job, and the union forbids its members to work on the Rio Norte line.
Dagny decides to take a leave of absence from TTR and build the Rio Norte line on her own. She renames it the John Galt line, in a spirit of optimism. The government passes the Equalization of Opportunity law that prevents an individual from owning a company that does business with another company owned by that same person. Rearden, who has invested in the Galt line, is now prohibited from owning the mines that supply him with the raw materials needed to make his metal. Dagny finishes the line, ahead of schedule, and celebrates with Rearden.
Dagny and Rearden, now a couple, vacation by looking at abandoned factories around the country. At the ruins of the Twentieth Century Motor Company factory in Wisconsin, they find a motor that has the potential to revolutionize the world; but the motor is a wreck. When it worked, it pulled static electricity...
(The entire section is 1521 words.)