Atlas Shrugged (chronology)

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Any attempt to suggest a chronology for Atlas Shrugged must account for two classes of events: fixed and story-dependent. It must also account for Ayn Rand’s specific wishes and desires to avoid any suggestion that her story depended on contemporary history.


Contents

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:

  1. The novel depicts the first use of Diesel-electric locomotives in railroading.
  2. Railroads are the primary mode of overland transport.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Radio was the ubiquitous mass medium of the day. Television was something new and exotic, and had not yet achieved universal penetration.
  6. Telegraphy, being much cheaper than full-duplex long-distance telephony, was still a prominent method of communication.
  7. 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."
  8. Every nation in the world, except the United States of America, is called "People's State of" whatever.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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:

  1. Americans have abandoned airline travel and once again depend on the railroads to move people and freight.
  2. Television, including Community Antenna Television ("cable"), is the preferred medium of mass communications.
  3. 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.)
  4. Diesel-electric engines are the preferred type of locomotive, but one scene features a next-generation locomotive capable of "bullet train" speeds.
  5. 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.

Civic terminology

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,[1] Lawrence,[2] and the index date for the motion picture by Atlas Productions
Date Event
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

References

  1. Schantz H, "Chronology of Atlas Shrugged," AetherCzar, retrieved 13 February 2012.
  2. Lawrence R, "Atlas Shrugged Chronology," Objectivism Reference Center, retrieved 13 February 2012.
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