Atlas Shrugged (chronology)
Lack of historical grounding
Ayn Rand, in writing Atlas Shrugged, deliberately avoided setting a specific index year for her novel. The few historical events she mentioned all come from South American and United States history at least fifty years before the time of publication, hence well before any reasonable index date for her novel. These are the only fixed events in the novel; everything else is story-dependent.
In her correspondence with friends, Rand revealed that she did not want to confine the novel to any one period. Atlas Shrugged told a story that could begin at any time. The grand concept of the “strike of the men of the mind” was more important to her than any one historical period.
Contextual clues from the novel
The novel provides these clues to deciding what were the most likely years during which the action takes place:
- The novel depicts the first use of Diesel-electric locomotives in railroading.
- Railroads are the primary mode of overland transport.
- Airline service is relatively new—and fails miserably during the novel. (Airlines would not displace passenger rail travel until the 1970s, with the formation of the National Rail Passenger Corporation, or "Amtrak.") Monoplanes seem new, but that might reflect Ayn Rand's lack of command of the English language.
- Telephone service was well-established in this era, but had not achieved universal penetration. (Or perhaps telephone service has begun to fail.) In one key scene, a low-level foreman complains to Dagny Taggart that most of the men whom she orders him to contact do not have telephone service where they live.
- Radio was the ubiquitous mass medium of the day. Television was something new and exotic, and had not yet achieved universal penetration.
- Telegraphy, being much cheaper than full-duplex long-distance telephony, was still a prominent method of communication.
- The United States Navy is definitely not the powerful presence on the high seas that it is today, or even during World War II. The combined forces of the Navy are powerless to stop a single privateer from hijacking every government-ordered relief cargo sent to various "People's States."
- Every nation in the world, except the United States of America, is called "People's State of" whatever.
- The great "strike of the men of the mind" begins with a single engineer at a plant whose new owners abruptly decide to manage it according to the principles, such as they are, set forth in The Communist Manifesto.
- The government develops a weapon of mass destruction ("Project X", "Project Xylophone", "The Thompson Harmonizer"), intended to assert its authority by main force. This weapon is not nuclear, nor chemical, nor biological, but apparently is ultrasonic in nature.
- No such thing as gun control exists, or if it is attempted, it fails. The spontaneous strikers who take their inspiration from John Galt's speech set up armed camps in various forest regions.
- The State Science Institute builds cyclotrons, something that the US government started to build in the 1950s.
The most likely span of the years of the great strike is 1945-1957, with the novel's major action taking place in the last three years of this period. This novel, then, qualifies as an alternate history of the United States of America, and of the civilized world. In this version of history, the United States did not intervene in the War of the Reds and the Whites in Russia, and probably did not participate in the First World War. That War probably ended with every country on earth, except America, becoming a Communist state. In addition, prohibition cannot have occurred, because alcoholic drinks flow freely in many settings.
Politically, the United States would have been in the hands of the proponents of Progressivism, which was in fact a potent-enough force in the election of 1912 to field a third party candidate for President (Theodore Roosevelt) who actually out-polled the losing major-party candidate in that race, William Howard Taft. In this version, perhaps, Franklin D. Roosevelt runs for President in 1944, but not with Harry S. Truman for a running mate. Instead, he runs with Mr. Thompson, who is still serving as President when the "looters' system" fails. Ayn Rand said that Truman was her anti-type for Mr. Thompson. If so, the only thing those two would have had in common was their physical appearance.
Taxation during this period consisted primarily of the income tax, which Roosevelt raised to confiscatory (up to 94%) levels during the Second World War. Many other taxes, some of them completely ad hoc, are applied at one time or another in the course of the novel.
We may assume that World War II went to completion, that Communism took hold throughout Western Europe, South America, and elsewhere, and that Mr. Thompson, far from objecting, welcomed the change. One thing that does not bear mention is the establishment of the Republic of Israel. In fact, Israel was very close to being a People's State at its inception, the usual community being the kibbutz, which was by definition a collectivistic community. The Atlantis-like community that John Galt establishes is, if anything, the anti-kibbutz.
Contextual clues from the motion picture
Today a film adaptation exists (see below). The screenwriters elected to set the story in America of 2016. In that scenario:
- Americans have abandoned airline travel and once again depend on the railroads to move people and freight.
- Television, including Community Antenna Television ("cable"), is the preferred medium of mass communications.
- The Middle East has dissolved into continual warfare and cut itself and its oil supplies off from the rest of the world. (What has become of Israel, the film does not say. Equally likely, another "Arab Spring" has set tribe against tribe.)
- Diesel-electric engines are the preferred type of locomotive, but one scene features a next-generation locomotive capable of "bullet train" speeds.
- The United States Navy is almost certainly downsized, so that, as in the novel, Ragnar Danneskjold can hijack cargoes with impunity. What sort of vessel he commands, the film does not reveal.
Everything else in the film is as it was in the novel.
The film, more than anything else, illustrated a problem that Rand did not anticipate: that technological progress, and inflation, would “date” her novel in a way that she did not want. Atlas Productions chose to update some parts of the story background, and to force others to conform. Thus to preserve the essential setting the story in a major railroad, the producers did not try to change the Taggart Transcontinental Railroad to a Taggart Intercontinental Airline. Indeed, they projected a near future in which Americans had abandoned commercial aviation completely.
Readers of Atlas Shrugged might infer that Ayn Rand was not familiar with the correct terms to describe American civic institutions, and that was why she substituted the generic “Legislature” and “Head of the State” for “Congress” and “President of the United States.” But Rand herself said that she deliberately chose those generic terms. She did not want to give anyone the impression that the arch-villain, Mr. Thompson, would ever wear the honorable title of President of the United States. (What she would have made of the man now holding that office, Barack Hussein Obama, none can guess.)
Atlas Productions solved that problem by projecting a backstory in which America had dissolved its present bicameral Congress and substituted a unicameral Legislature of more than 100 members.
Likely scenario: a runaway convention
That kind of sweeping change presupposes another: a runaway Constitutional convention. Doubtless Mr. Thompson brokered this runaway convention, with the active cooperation of men like Orren Boyle and perhaps even James Taggart. Or he might have engineered this convention long ago. That Rand did not see fit to mention such a profound change is only because she chose not to explain it. Any professional author soon learns the RUE Rule: Resist the Urge to Explain.
The following chronological table, then, depends on the index date that Atlas Productions chose for their motion-picture series. It assumes that Mr. Thompson’s runaway convention interrupted the Presidential succession at or before 2001. Perhaps Mr. Thompson stands in for President William Jefferson “Bill” Clinton and engineers the runaway convention in the fear that his trial in the United States Senate will go against him. However, Mr. Thompson’s actions are far more dire than those of Clinton and are more consistent with those of Barack H. Obama.
The Chronological Table
|Suggested Chronology of Atlas Shrugged, based on Schantz, Lawrence, and the index date for the motion picture by Atlas Productions|
|Saturday, April 01, 1600||Sebastián D'Anconia leaves his fortune in Spain and flees to Argentina.|
|Wednesday, April 01, 1615||Sebastián D'Anconia sends for the girl he left behind in Spain.|
|Saturday, April 01, 1820||Birth of Nathaniel Taggart|
|Wednesday, April 01, 1840||Birth of Nathaniel Taggart’s son|
|Sunday, April 01, 1860||Founding of Taggart Transcontinental Railroad|
|Tuesday, April 15, 1862||Birth of Nathaniel Taggart’s grandson|
|Friday, May 01, 1885||Taggart Bridge opens|
|Thursday, May 01, 1902||Taggart Tunnel opens|
|Wednesday, May 01, 1963||Birth of Paul Larkin|
|Wednesday, July 01, 1964||Birth of Robert Stadler, PhD|
|Monday, March 01, 1965||Birth of Richard Halley, composer|
|Tuesday, November 15, 1966||Birth of Dan Conway (Phoenix Durango RR)|
|Saturday, May 01, 1971||Birth of Henry “Hank” Rearden|
|Thursday, March 01, 1973||Birth of Floyd Ferris, PhD|
|Tuesday, July 22, 1975||Birth of Lee Hunsacker (Amalgamated Svc. Co.)|
|Friday, April 01, 1977||Birth of James Taggart|
|Saturday, June 03, 1978||Birth of Philip Rearden|
|Thursday, June 05, 1980||Birth of Francisco d'Anconia|
|Wednesday, June 18, 1980||Birth of Ragnar Danneskjöld|
|Friday, July 04, 1980||Birth of John Galt|
|Tuesday, June 15, 1982||Birth of Dagny Taggart|
|Friday, July 22, 1983||Birth of Ellis Wyatt|
|Friday, June 01, 1984||Birth of Eddie Willers|
|Saturday, June 01, 1985||Hank Rearden’s first job in an iron ore mine in Minnesota|
|Wednesday, February 01, 1989||William Hastings signs on at Twentieth Century Motor Company|
|Saturday, April 01, 1989||Richard Halley premieres his opera Phaëthon|
|Friday, February 01, 1991||Francisco spends winter at home of Duke of Alba (Madrid, ES)|
|Friday, March 01, 1991||Jeff Allen first signs on at Twentieth Century Motor Company|
|Saturday, June 01, 1991||Dagny decides to work for TTRR|
|Tuesday, October 01, 1991||Robert Stadler publishes his treatise on cosmic rays|
|Saturday, February 01, 1992||Francisco stows away on a cargo ship carrying copper for D’Anconia Copper SA|
|Wednesday, July 01, 1992||Francisco works as dispatcher’s call boy at a division point for TTRR|
|Saturday, August 01, 1992||John Galt, age 12, leaves home|
|Thursday, September 01, 1994||Robert Stadler wins world fame|
|Tuesday, July 12, 1994||Dagny tells Eddie that she will run TTRR; Eddie says he will do “whatever is right.”|
|Saturday, July 01, 1995||Francisco observes that industrial trademarks are the coats-of-arms of the modern era|
|Tuesday, September 03, 1996||Robert Stadler becomes Professor and Chairman, Physics, Patrick Henry U.|
|Monday, September 09, 1996||Francisco works as furnace boy at a copper foundry in outskirts of Cleveland, OH|
|Monday, September 09, 1996||Francisco, Ragnar, and John matriculate at PHU|
|Monday, September 08, 1997||James Taggart is a senior; Francisco, Ragnar and John are sophomores|
|Monday, August 03, 1998||Dagny takes night operator’s job, Rockdale, NY|
|Monday, August 03, 1998||Jim Taggart takes a Public Relations job at TTRR|
|Saturday, May 01, 1999||Dagny Taggart is “presented” to society|
|Tuesday, June 01, 1999||Dagny and Francisco become “an item.”|
|Monday, May 22, 2000||Francisco, Ragnar, and John graduate from PHU. Francisco buys the copper foundry|
|Monday, September 25, 2000||Francisco goes to Montana as assistant superintendent of a d’Anconia mine.|
|Sunday, July 15, 2001||Hank Rearden buys an iron ore mine that is ready to close.|
|Tuesday, March 20, 2001||Francisco takes charge of D’Anconia Copper’s NYC office.|
|Friday, August 01, 2003||Francisco d’Anconia inherits D’Anconia Copper on his father’s death|
|Thursday, September 02, 2004||Robert Stadler endorses founding of State Science Institute; John Galt to TCMC|
|Tuesday, August 15, 2006||Rearden buys a steel plant and names it Rearden Steel; begins research leading to Rearden Metal|
|Wednesday, February 07, 2007||John Galt completes his prototypical electrostatic/quantum motor|
|Tuesday, March 06, 2007||Death of Gerald “Jed” Starnes, Senior, founder of TCMC|
|Tuesday, March 06, 2007||The Strike Begins|
|Wednesday, March 07, 2007||Francisco on strike; Ragnar decides to become a privateer|
|Wednesday, March 07, 2007||Hugh Akston, Professor and Chairman, Philosophy, PHU, retires. Interim chairmen succeed him.|
|Wednesday, March 07, 2007||Dagny and Francisco end their relationship; Francisco a “playboy”|
|Wednesday, March 07, 2007||William Hastings leaves TCMC and signs on with Acme Motors|
|Wednesday, March 07, 2007||John Galt signs on as track laborer in the Taggart Terminal, NYC|
|Friday, March 14, 2008||William Hastings retires from Acme Motors|
|Saturday, April 19, 2008||Richard Halley revives Phaëthon and then retires that same night without explanation|
|Friday, August 01, 2008||Ellis Wyatt develops his method to recover oil from “depleted” wells|
|Wednesday, December 10, 2008||Hank and Lillian Rearden married|
|Sunday, February 22, 2009||Ragnar Danneskjöld fights his first battle on the high seas and is wounded.|
|Monday, March 02, 2009||The manager of the Taggart Terminal in New York City quits at John Galt's instigation.|
|Monday, March 09, 2009||John Galt sees Dagny Taggart for the first time, underground in the Taggart Terminal complex.|
|Monday, March 07, 2011||Twentieth Century Motor Company bankrupt|
|Monday, April 11, 2011||Lee Hunsacker forms Amalgamated Service Company to buy TCMC|
|Sunday, May 01, 2011||Hunsacker v. Mulligan decided, appealed, remanded. Midas Mulligan vanishes, shuts down his bank|
|Sunday, May 01, 2011||Founding of Atlantis|
|Friday, September 02, 2011||James Taggart inherits Presidency of TTRR|
|Friday, September 02, 2011||TTRR Board authorizes the San Sebastián Line|
|Friday, September 02, 2011||Vice-President of Operations at TTRR, 2 Board members resign in protest|
|Friday, September 02, 2011||TTRR chief engineer resigns|
|Friday, September 02, 2011||Construction begins on San Sebastián Mines|
|Saturday, September 03, 2011||Orren Boyle founds Associated Steel using a government loan|
|Friday, October 28, 2011||Judge Narragansett resigns from the bench|
|Friday, November 04, 2011||Judge Narragansett and Richard Halley both relocate to Atlantis; other strikers still outside.|
|Thursday, July 05, 2012||Death of William Hastings|
|Sunday, March 17, 2013||Suicide of Eric Starnes|
|Saturday, March 23, 2013||Thomas Hendricks, MD, neurosurgeon, retires and vanishes|
|Sunday, September 01, 2013||Simon Pritchett becomes Professor and Chairman, Philosophy, PHU|
|Tuesday, July 01, 2014||Kay Ludlow retires from motion pictures and vanishes|
|Friday, August 01, 2014||TTRR orders Diesel engines from United Locomotive Works|
|Monday, September 15, 2014||Dagny becomes VP-Operations after threatening to resign|
|Monday, May 04, 2015||Final bankruptcy of TCMC; crash of Community National Bank of Starnesville, WI|
|Monday, June 29, 2015||Ragnar Danneskjöld marries Kay Ludlow|
|Saturday, August 01, 2015||TTRR first orders rail from Orren Boyle’s Associated Steel|
|Saturday, August 01, 2015||Peoples’ Mortgage Co. (Mark Yonts, CEO) sells TCMC and also pledges it as collateral for a loan|
|Tuesday, December 01, 2015||Dagny Taggart completes construction of San Sebastián Line|
|Friday, January 01, 2016||Opening of San Sebastián Line|
|Friday, September 02, 2016||Index Date|
|Tuesday, September 06, 2016||Richard McNamara quits|
|Tuesday, October 25, 2016||Anti-dog-eat-dog Rule; Dan Conway retires; Ellis Wyatt’s angry visit to Dagny|
|Friday, December 09, 2016||Battle of Delaware Bay – Ragnar Danneskjöld vs. the USCG|
|Saturday, December 10, 2016||Hank and Lillian Rearden host their eighth wedding anniversary|
|Monday, January 23, 2017||Cherryl Brooks arrives in NYC on a Taggart train|
|Monday, May 01, 2017||Utah Institute of Technology closes|
|Saturday, July 22, 2017||John Galt Line opens|
|Tuesday, July 25, 2017||Phoenix-Durango RR closes|
|Monday, September 04, 2017||Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart go on driving vacation to Midwest|
|Wednesday, November 22, 2017||Wesley Mouch issues directives that destroy Colorado|
|Wednesday, November 22, 2017||Ellis Wyatt lights his Torch and vanishes|
|Tuesday, May 01, 2018||Publication of Why Do You Think You Think by Floyd Ferris, PhD|
|Sunday, September 02, 2018||Marriage of James Taggart and Cherryl Brooks Taggart|
|Monday, September 03, 2018||Crash of D’Anconia Copper stock|
|Monday, September 03, 2018||Lillian Rearden discovers that Hank is having an affair, but not (yet) with whom|
|Thursday, November 22, 2018||Thanksgiving dinner at the Rearden home|
|Friday, November 23, 2018||Hank Rearden stands trial and makes his defiant speech|
|Monday, December 17, 2018||Ragnar Danneskjöld sinks his first load of D’Anconia Copper|
|Friday, February 15, 2019||TTRR Board votes to close the John Galt Line|
|Sunday, March 31, 2019||John Galt Line closes|
|Wednesday, May 01, 2019||Directive 10-289 into effect; Dagny resigns|
|Friday, May 10, 2019||Chick Morrison’s Special gets the Diesel|
|Wednesday, May 15, 2019||Hank Rearden signs Gift Certificate|
|Thursday, May 16, 2019||Ragnar Danneskjöld raids Orren Boyle’s mills on the coast of Maine|
|Friday, May 17, 2019||Ragnar Danneskjöld meets Hank Rearden on a lonely road|
|Wednesday, May 22, 2019||Quentin Daniels sends his letter of resignation to Dagny Taggart|
|Tuesday, May 28, 2019||Taggart Tunnel destroyed; more than 300 lives lost|
|Tuesday, May 28, 2019||Dagny Taggart departs for Afton, UT|
|Friday, May 31, 2019||Dagny Taggart crash-lands in Atlantis|
|Saturday, June 29, 2019||Dagny Taggart departs from Atlantis|
|Saturday, June 29, 2019||Project X (Dunkertown, IA) demonstrated|
|Monday, August 05, 2019||Suicide of Cherryl Brooks Taggart|
|Monday, September 02, 2019||A copper wire breaks in CA; nationalization and destruction of D’Anconia Copper|
|Tuesday, September 03, 2019||BROTHER, YOU ASKED FOR IT! Francisco Domingo Carlos Andres Sebastián d’Anconia.|
|Saturday, September 07, 2019||A copper wire breaks in MT; CA oil companies fold; Philip Rearden asks for a job|
|Monday, September 09, 2019||Hank Rearden divorces Lillian; Wet Nurse asks for a job|
|Wednesday, September 11, 2019||A copper wire breaks in MN|
|Thursday, September 12, 2019||Copper seizure directive|
|Saturday, September 14, 2019||Minnesota Disaster|
|Tuesday, October 15, 2019||Paralysis of the Taggart Terminal; John Galt and Dagny Taggart consummate their relationship|
|Sunday, October 20, 2019||Rearden Steelworkers Union petitions Unification Board for a raise|
|Wednesday, October 23, 2019||Petition denied|
|Friday, October 25, 2019||Vilification of Hank Rearden begins in media|
|Monday, October 28, 2019||Vandalism of the blast furnace|
|Wednesday, October 30, 2019||Vandalism of the office building|
|Thursday, October 31, 2019||IRS lays a lien on Rearden’s assets|
|Friday, November 01, 2019||First Washington call to Rearden; caller unidentified|
|Saturday, November 02, 2019||Tinky Holloway calls Rearden at home to invite him to a conference in NYC.|
|Monday, November 04, 2019||Meeting of Hank Rearden with Washington boys at Wayne-Falkland Hotel, NYC|
|Monday, November 04, 2019||Riot at Rearden Steel; Death of the Wet Nurse; Hank Rearden goes on strike|
|Friday, November 22, 2019||This Is John Galt Speaking|
|Wednesday, November 27, 2019||Assault on the political speaker in Cleveland|
|Friday, November 29, 2019||The shoe factory incident|
|Thursday, December 05, 2019||Mr. Thompson announces that he is ready to “negotiate.”|
|Sunday, December 15, 2019||Don’t despair; we will get John Galt to lead us!|
|Wednesday, January 22, 2020||Final destruction of Rearden Steel|
|Sunday, January 26, 2020||Guatemala refuses to lend steel to the USA|
|Monday, February 03, 2020||An airline pilot overflies Rearden Steel. He will quit the next morning.|
|Monday, February 10, 2020||Mr. Thompson meets with Dagny Taggart in NYC (estimated)|
|Saturday, February 22, 2020||Arrest of John Galt|
|Tuesday, March 17, 2020||Robert Stadler meets John Galt, then flees NYC and sets out for Dunkertown/Harmony City, IA|
|Friday, March 20, 2020||Get the [censored] out of my way!|
|Friday, March 20, 2020||Detonation of Project X; Death of Robert Stadler; Taggart Bridge destroyed|
|Friday, March 20, 2020||Rescue of John Galt|
|Friday, March 20, 2020||Abandonment of Eddie Willers|
|Wednesday, April 15, 2020||We are going back to the world|