Part 1, Chapter 1 Summary

“Who is John Galt?” That is the question asked by a homeless man of Eddie Willers, who is returning to his office at Taggart Transcontinental, the largest railroad company in the United States. Eddie is special assistant to the vice president at Taggart Transcontinental.

The homeless man's question bothers Eddie, though he insists that it does not. On his return to the office, Eddie goes to see James Taggart, the president of the railroad company. Eddie tells him that the Rio Norte Line has had another wreck. Taggart brushes it off, but Eddie insists that in order for the railroad to survive, the line must be replaced with Rearden Steel. Taggart insists on using Associated Steel, which is run by a friend. Taggart Transcontinental is losing customers, most notably Wyatt Oil. As he leaves, Eddie stops at Pop Harper’s desk. Pop has worked for Taggart Transcontinental since the previous generation. He is trying to fix a typewriter, but without success. He says it is no use. Things are breaking down all around him. To highlight his frustration, he asks Eddie, “Who is John Galt?”

Taggart’s sister, Dagny, is the vice president of the company. She is returning from examining the Rio Norte Line when the train she is on stops at a red signal. Leaving her compartment, Dagny walks to the front of the train where the cabin crew is standing. They tell her that they will not move as long as there is a red signal: those are their orders. Eventually they recognize Dagny as the one who runs the railroad. She overrides the engineer’s concern and gets the train moving again. She overhears the brakeman whistling a tune, which he says is Halley’s "Fifth Concerto." Dagny, an expert on Halley, knows that Halley composed only four. Back in New York, Dagny announces that she has ordered the rails to be replaced by Rearden Steel, using their lighter, cheaper alloy called Rearden Metal. Taggart objects to Dagny’s authoritarian tone, refusing to submit this request to the Board.

Owen Kellogg enters Dagny’s office. He has come to tell her that he is quitting, in compliance with her request that he tell her if he ever considered a change in employment. Dagny tells Kellogg that she had intended to make him the supervisor of the Ohio Division. She begs him to stay. Kellogg does not even consider the offer before turning it down. When she asks about his future plans, Kellogg says that he has none. She asks him why, and he answers, “Who is John Galt?”