Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged is a good story paired with a (sometimes belabored) expression of the author's philosophy. I was wondering if there are any real-life connections to the characters of her books. Wikipedia notes (citing Rand's journal and notes) that Robert Stadler was, in part, based on J. Robert Oppenheimer. Some secondary characters are also listed there, including Nat Taggart (based on James Jerome Hill), Hugh Akston (based on Aristotle) and Mr. Thompson (based on Harry Truman). So we see that at least some of her characters were based on nonfictional characters.

What other characters, if any, were inspired by real people?

(Personal speculation without basis is not really wanted here; please don't just say "Dagny is X" without backing it up. Proofs for answers may include close readings of the text paired with relevant history, other writings by Rand, interviews with Rand, or similar.)

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    Meta-history of this question: meta.literature.stackexchange.com/q/460/481
    – Shokhet
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 17:51
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    I hate asking for reasons for downvotes, but seriously I thought this question is well asked, has a good basis, and is shown to be squarely on-topic on Meta. Guess you can't make all the people happy all the time....
    – Shokhet
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 18:21
  • Similar question: literature.stackexchange.com/q/1364/481
    – Shokhet
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 18:43
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    Saw the last line, did a quick double-take ... oh, that Rand.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 19:25
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    Yes, that Rand LOL @Randal'Thor
    – Shokhet
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 19:27

1 Answer 1


It could be that Nat Taggart was loosely based on James J. Hill, but I believe there is equally strong evidence that he was based on William Henry Vanderbilt. Consider this line from Atlas:

"Jim, do you remember the story they tell about Nat Taggart? He said that he envied only one of his competitors, the one who said 'The public be damned!' He wished he had said it."

It was William Henry Vanderbilt who made that statement.

Now, since Dagny said that it was Nat Taggart's competitor who said that, there is strong evidence that Nat was based on a competitor to Vanderbilt, which may very well have been Hill. But you could also argue that Nat was based on Vanderbilt. The reason I say that is because Rand obviously admired Vanderbilt, practically gushing over his quote, in Atlas. The phrase about the competitor could simply be a redirect so as not to be too blatantly biographical and have it be said that her characters were all "based on somebody". I don't think she intended that.

One could also argue that Hank Rearden was based on Vanderbilt, since he (Rearden) made numerous statements similar in tone to "the public be damned", especially at his public trial.

Consider this line by Rearden at his trial:

"The public good be damned, I will have no part of it!"

So I say the strongest evidence is that Rearden is loosely based on Vanderbilt.

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    "you could also argue that Nat was based on Vanderbilt" - but how could you argue this? You've found an interesting quote linking Vanderbilt to one of Nat's competitors, but you don't seem to have provided evidence for a link between Nat himself and Vanderbilt.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 19:10
  • I'm with @Randal'Thor on this one. Admittedly, it's been a while since I read the book (and tbh I don't know much about Vanderbilt), but I don't see the connection that you do. Fleshing out this answer to explain how you got from Nat to Vanderbilt or Rearden to Vanderbilt will improve it a lot. Thanks :)
    – Shokhet
    Commented Feb 20, 2018 at 17:23
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    I fleshed out my reasoning, hopefully the thread is stronger now. Commented Feb 20, 2018 at 20:39

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