John Galt The main character of the novel, John Galt is the man who dominates the action, though he doesn't appear until two-thirds of the way through the novel. John Galt is the character who conceives, initiates, and carries to a successful conclusion the strike of the great minds that forms the core of the novel's action. He is both the inventor of the motor and the "destroyer" that Dagny fears.
Dagny Taggart The novel's heroine, Dagny Taggart is Galt's most dangerous enemy but also the woman he loves. Dagny is a brilliant engineer/businesswoman who runs a transcontinental railroad expertly. Her strength of purpose and impassioned commitment to the railroad enables her to withstand the injustices of the looters' regime and, by her prodigious productivity, inadvertently sustain that regime. She is the primary foe that Galt must defeat.
Hank Rearden Hank Rearden is the industrialist who runs the country's finest steel mills. Through ten years of herculean effort, he has invented a new substance — Rearden Metal — that is vastly superior to steel. Hank is also Dagny's colleague and lover through much of the story. He is the other great industrialist inadvertently propping up the looters' regime and, consequently, also a danger to Galt's strike. Rearden has uncritically accepted part of the looters' code — the moral premise that an individual has the unchosen obligation to serve others. In order to experience the joy that he has earned, Rearden must liberate himself from the shackles of the self-sacrifice morality.
Francisco d'Anconia A friend and ally of John Galt, Francisco d'Anconia was the first to join Galt in going on strike and is an active recruiting officer for the strike. Francisco is the world's wealthiest man, a brilliant copper industrialist who takes the disguise of a hedonistic playboy as a means of hiding his true intent: the gradual destruction of d'Anconia Copper and of the millions of dollars invested in it by American businessmen. A childhood friend of Dagny's and her first lover, he pays the highest price for his role in the strike.
Ragnar Danneskjöld Like Francisco, Ragnar Danneskjöld is a friend of Galt's who joins the strike at its inception. A brilliant philosopher who chooses to fight the looters as a pirate, he robs their ships and restores the wealth to the people who produced it. Danneskjöld is the opposite of Robin Hood: He robs the poor and gives to the rich — he takes from the parasitical and restores wealth to the productive.
Hugh Akston Hugh Akston is the greatest living philosopher and the last great advocate of reason — or "the first of their return." He taught Galt, Francisco, and Ragnar at the Patrick Henry University, where he was head of the Department of Philosophy. He joins Galt's strike in its early days, leading to the paradox of a great thinker earning his living as a short-order cook at an isolated diner.
Richard Halley Halley is the composer whose works Dagny loves. His music, boasting beautiful melodies and heroic themes, is rejected by a culture that worships depravity. He joins the strike when he comprehends the vast differences between the premises underlying his music and the ideas held by the men in power.
Midas Mulligan The most successful banker in the world, Mulligan owns the valley in a remote section of the Colorado Rockies to which the strikers retire. In the outside world, Mulligan was regarded as greedy and cold-hearted because he based his investments on productive ability, not on need. He joins the strike because he realizes that he loves being alive and that this love cannot be fulfilled in a society that enslaves his mind.
Ellis Wyatt Ellis Wyatt is an innovative entrepreneur of the oil industry. His discovery of a new method for extracting oil from shale rock initiates the economic boom in Colorado. The industries that grow up around Wyatt Oil are the last hope for the country's prosperity. Wyatt is a defiant individualist who refuses to tolerate the destructive policies of the government. Rather than allow the rulers to slowly suck the blood from his business, he sets fires to his wells, resulting in the unquenchable "Wyatt's Torch."
The Colorado Industrialists These men, along with Wyatt, are responsible for the great prosperity achieved in Colorado. Andrew Stockton runs the country's finest foundry. Lawrence Hammond is the last manufacturer on earth of superb automobiles, and Dwight Sanders is a genius of the aviation industry. Likewise, Ted Nielsen of Nielsen Motors and Roger Marsh of Marsh Electric are superb producers of motors and electrical appliances. However, all of them are destroyed by regulations the government imposes on Colorado. All of the Colorado Industrialists recognize the futility of attempting to produce under the socialist policies of the rulers and join Galt's strike seeking freedom.
Ken Danagger Dannager is a Pennsylvania coal producer and friend of Hank Rearden's. Like Rearden, Dannager recognizes the destructive nature of the rulers' laws and breaks them, engaging in illegal deals that are necessary if he wants to keep producing coal. He joins the strike after being arrested for his part in the transaction that results in Rearden's trial.
Judge Narragansett Judge Narragansett is the legal figure who stands for the rule of objective law and the rights of the individual. He joins the strike when he understands that the administration of justice is impossible under the looters' arbitrary decrees. In the end, as the strikers prepare to return, he revises a clause in the United States Constitution, prohibiting the government from enacting laws that abridge the freedom of production and trade.
Dan Conway Dan Conway builds the tiny Phoenix-Durango Railroad into the dominant railroad of the southwestern states. As Taggart Transcontinental deteriorates, Dan Conway's road takes most of the Colorado freight traffic. Because he provides such superb service to his shippers, James Taggart uses political influence to pass the "Anti-dog-eat-dog Rule," putting Conway out of business.
Eddie Willers Dagny's childhood friend and assistant at Taggart Transcontinental, Eddie Willers is a conscientious worker and loyal employee of the railroad who is outraged by the restrictions that the looters place on America's most productive individuals. Through Eddie, the mysterious railroad worker in the cafeteria gains important information regarding Dagny's work, the state of the railroad, and the conditions of American industry.
Cherryl Brooks The poor shop girl who mistakenly idolizes James Taggart and marries him, Cherryl Brooks is a hero worshipper. She admires achievement and the individuals who attain it. Cherryl leaves the slum neighborhood in which she was raised to come to New York City to advance her career. Because of her ambition and her hero worship (her virtues), James Taggart seeks to destroy her. He is powerless to destroy Dagny, Francisco, Rearden, and the others, so he wreaks his hatred of the good on Cherryl.
The Wet Nurse The Wet Nurse is the young bureaucrat just out of college whom the government assigns as a spy to Rearden's mills. Despite being taught nothing but moral relativism by his teachers, the boy is sufficiently honest to recognize Rearden's moral stature and the looters' evil. He grows into a legitimate hero worshipper like Cherryl and, similarly, is destroyed by the looters.
Tom Colby The head of the union of Rearden steelworkers, Tom Colby recognizes that there is no necessary conflict of interest between employer and employees. Rearden demands and gets the most efficient labor force in the world, for which he pays wages significantly above union scale. Colby, a diligent worker, recognizes that Rearden is his ally, not a "class enemy."
Gwen Ives Gwen Ives is Rearden's secretary. She's ruthlessly efficient in her work and intensely loyal to Rearden and his mills. Her commitment to justice is shown when she cries at the news that Rearden has been robbed of his ore mines by the passage of the Equalization of Opportunity Bill. When Rearden retires and disappears, she too leaves the firm.
James Taggart Dagny's older brother and the President of Taggart Transcontinental, Jim is a "looter" — a businessman who seeks gain not by productive work but by political connections. The difference between Dagny and her brother is shown in their reactions to Dan Conway's Phoenix-Durango Railroad. They both want to put the competitor out of business. Dagny wishes to do so by building Taggart's Rio Norte Line into a more efficient road, whereas Jim seeks to destroy the Phoenix-Durango by political decree. Where Dagny stands for production, Jim stands for force. Jim is motivated by his hatred of good men and his desire to kill such individuals as Dagny, Rearden, Francisco, and Galt.
Lillian Rearden Lillian is Hank Rearden's wife. She cultivates connections with the looters in an attempt to reach the one goal of her life — the destruction of the husband she hates. Envy and hatred of the good dominate her, just as they do James Taggart. Her chosen mission in life is destruction, but she's more honest with herself than Taggart is. Taggart attempts to delude himself into believing that he's motivated by a desire for material gain, whereas Lillian Rearden acknowledges that she's motivated solely by a desire to destroy the good that she can never hope to match.
Dr. Robert Stadler The brilliant scientist turned looter-politician, Robert Stadler was once head of the Department of Physics at the Patrick Henry University. A genius in the field of theoretical physics, he was also the teacher of Galt, Francisco, and Ragnar. Stadler believes that most men are irrational and impervious to reason. Because men would never voluntarily choose science, they must be forced to support it. Stadler believes that the men of the mind are an endangered minority among the uneducated masses and should have the right to rule. For this reason, he thinks he can use governmental force to advance the cause of science.
Wesley Mouch The economic dictator of the country, Mouch is an unscrupulous mediocrity who begins his political career as Rearden's "Washington man." He rises by selling Rearden out regarding the Equalization of Opportunity Bill, thereby winning the favor of James Taggart. Taggart's patronage enables Mouch to rise to the top of the economic bureaucracy. In the end, with the country in economic collapse, Mr. Thompson wishes to force Mouch's job on John Galt.
Mr. Thompson Mr. Thompson is the Head of State. He is utterly pragmatic, contemptuous of principles or convictions, and driven by the expediency of the moment. He will make any deal necessary with anybody in order to keep himself in power. Mr. Thompson even believes that he can cut a deal with John Galt who, in his view, has control of a political pressure group — the men of brains. Mr. Thompson is honestly puzzled by Galt's unwillingness to make a deal with him. In his cynical view, there is no such thing as a man not open to a corrupt deal.
Dr. Floyd Ferris The day-to-day head of the State Science Institute, Dr. Floyd Ferris is a murderous bureaucrat with an unquenchable lust for political power. Dr. Ferris would murder Galt without a second thought rather than give up the power he has gained. Ferris postures as a scientist but is actually hostile to the mind, because the thinkers, he recognizes, don't unquestioningly obey a dictator's commands. Therefore, he consistently attacks the mind, as in his book, Why Do You Think You Think?
Dr. Simon Pritchett Dr. Simon Pritchett is the professor who takes Hugh Akston's place as head of the Department of Philosophy at Patrick Henry University. Like Ferris, Pritchett is a skeptic, attacking the mind's ability to gain knowledge. When contrasted with Hugh Akston, Dr. Pritchett is an example of the decline of philosophy in an era when the mind is on strike.
Orren Boyle The owner of Associated Steel (a competitor of Rearden's), Boyle is a friend of Jim Taggart's and an unprincipled businessman who seeks gain solely by virtue of his connections in Washington. The government's expropriation of patents gives Boyle the legal right to manufacture Rearden Metal, but Ragnar Danneskjöld blows up his mills, ensuring that the only man to profit from the new metal is the one who created it.
Fred Kinnan The head of the country's labor unions, Kinnan is a gangster who seeks only power and plunder from his position. However, he's the most honest of the looters. Most of the looters try to convince themselves that they enslave the country for the "public good." Kinnan openly admits that he's a just a criminal seeking the unearned.