Skip to main content
Select Source:

Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand (1905-1982) began to form her philosophy of rational self interest, which she called "objectivism," at an early age. This view became the basis for her immensely popular writings, which included The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

Ayn Rand was born Alice Rosenbaum in St. Petersburg, Russia on February 2, 1905 to Fronz and Anna Rosenbaum, the first of three daughters. Fronz Rosenbaum was a moderately successful chemist who was able to provide a good living for his family. As the years of Czarist Russia came to a close, violence surged throughout the country. Rand's parents believed that their children should be spared news of the revolution, and kept them mostly ignorant of political events. As the revolution moved closer and encroached on the family, Rand saw her father's chemistry shop confiscated by Soviet authorities in their attempt to nationalize the economy. It was her first introduction to collectivism, and was one of the early events that led to her philosophy of self-importance.

Rand knew early in life that she wanted to be a writer and focused her attention on that goal. At the age of six she taught herself to read and, two years later, was inventing her own stories and plots. By the age of nine she had discovered her first fictional hero and was determined to become a writer. Rand was a precocious child who began thinking in "principles" as early as 12 years of age. After reading Walter Scott and Victor Hugo, the writers she most admired, she looked upon herself as a European writer, disdaining the works of Russia authors. She became familiar with U.S. history in her last year of high school and immediately embraced America as a model for what a nation of free citizens could become.

Rand entered the University of Petrograd in 1921, where she studied philosophy and history. She felt that the study of history would give her the background she needed to write on broad social issues that interested her. Rand graduated in 1924 and entered the State Institute for Cinema Arts to study screenwriting.

Left Russia Behind

Rand's opportunity to leave Russia came in 1925 through an invitation from relatives in Chicago, Illinois. She convinced soviet authorities that she would only be gone for a short time. By the time of her arrival in New York, in 1926, she had adopted the pseudonym of Ayn Rand, taking her first name from a Finnish writer and her last from her Remington Rand typewriter. Rand detested the Communist system that spread rapidly throughout Russia and adopted her new country with a passion. In America, she enjoyed the freedom of writing and saying whatever she thought without fear of government retribution. She obtained an extension on her visa and, in 1931, became a naturalized citizen.

By September 1926, Rand was on her way to Hollywood with the intention of becoming a screenwriter. Shortly after her arrival, she was hired as an extra in Cecile B. DeMille's film, King of Kings. It was here that she met actor, Frank O'Connor. He was her physical opposite—tall, blond, and handsome. They were married in 1929 and remained together until his death in 1979. Shortly after her marriage, RKO studios hired Rand in the wardrobe department. By 1932, she had risen to become the head of the wardrobe department. During this time Rand continued her writing on weekends. She sold her first screenplay Red Pawn (1932) to Universal Studios and produced her first play, Night of January 16th, in Hollywood. Rand completed her first novel, We the Living, in 1933. The manuscript floated to various publishers until it was accepted by Macmillan in America and Cassell in England and published in 1936. An autobiographical novel based on her years in the Soviet Union, it was not well received by American audiences. In 1938, she published Anthem, in which she warned her readers about the hardships of life in political dictatorships.

The Fountainhead

Rand began writing her first major novel, The Fountain-head in 1935 under the working title Second-Hand Lives . She wrote volumes in her personal diaries about the theme, characters, and plot of the novel. They contain extensive architectural research and her expanding philosophy of objectivism. The Fountainhead examines an architect's struggle to maintain his integrity against those who would have it compromised. The character of Howard Roark embodies her philosophy of rational self-interest, which encourages human beings to live for themselves. Rand's thesis compares individualism to collectivism and applies it to man's inner soul. She uses the book to examine the struggles put forth in such a conflict. The Fountainhead was rejected by a dozen publishers before Bobbs-Merrill accepted it for publication in 1943. It was the first book to achieve best seller status through word-of-mouth, two years after its publication. The rights to the movie version of the novel were purchased and Rand was hired to write the screenplay. She returned to Hollywood in 1943, but wartime activities delayed the production until 1948. Rand was fiercely protective of her intellectual property and refused to allow even one word of her screen adaptation to be changed.

Atlas Shrugged

Rand continued to use her novels to express her philosophy of Objectivism. In 1951, after completing the screenplay of The Fountainhead, Rand returned permanently to New York and continued work on her next mammoth novel, Atlas Shrugged (1957). Considered to be her "magnum opus," it tells the story of two industrialists who struggle to continue their business in a decaying society. The book was criticized for its harsh characterizations. In one of his most important articles, Whittaker Chambers published a savage review of the work saying, "The book's dictatorial tone is much its most striking feature. Out of a lifetime of reading, I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained." Although Rand did not read the review, she was angered by it, as were many of her admirers. It is considered by others to be an epic story of suspense in which Rand successfully integrated theme and plot, ideas and action.

Life After Fiction

With the completion of Atlas Shrugged, Rand stopped writing fiction. She became a visiting lecturer at Yale, Princeton, Columbia, the University of Wisconsin, Johns Hopkins, Ford Hall Forum, Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the United States Military Academy at West Point. She began to publish and edit a newsletter, The Objectivist Newsletter (name later changed to The Objectivist and The Ayn Rand Letter ). This new forum provided her with a continuing venue to expand on her philosophy of self-interest. Rand became more deeply immersed in the philosophy that she had begun to embrace as a child. To her, individualism and self-interest were the most important values. Altruism and organized religion were anathema. Rand is considered by her detractors to have been a huge egotist because of her belief in self-importance.

Rand published six fiction books and plays and six non-fiction works. The major non-fiction works she produced during this time included, For the New Intellectual (1961); The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism (1964); Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (1966); The Romantic Manifesto: A Philosophy of Literature (1969); The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution (1971); and Philosophy: Who Needs It (1982).

Rand continued to refine her theories of self-interest and self-importance. She spoke openly of her loathing of Communism and, in 1947, testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee. She became a prominent player in the post-World War II Hollywood witch-hunts when she spoke of the influence of Communism on the film industry. In Alliance news releases, Rand wrote that the purpose of Communists in Hollywood was "to corrupt our moral premises by corrupting nonpolitical movies (by) introducing small, casual bits of propaganda into innocent stories—thus making people absorb the basic principles of collectivism by indirection and implication."

Personal Life

In 1950, Rand developed a close friendship with a young Canadian-born couple, Barbara Weidman and Nathaniel Blumenthal, who were students at UCLA. Blumenthal, who later changed his name to Branden, wrote to Rand expressing his interest in her philosophy. Rand became their mentor. She eventually entered into an adulterous liaison with Blumenthal, despite a 26-year age difference. The relationship lasted over 13 years. Rand is said to have proposed the affair to Branden's wife and her husband, then proceeded to open the topic for discussion. She is said to have rationalized the proposed affair, proving it to be reasonable according to the tenets of Objectivism and claiming that it would not threaten either marriage. Apparently that was true for Rand, who remained married to O'Connor for 50 years, until his death in 1979. The same can not be said of the Brandens, who later divorced. Details of the split between Branden and Rand are sketchy. However, the Nathaniel Branden Institute, a think-tank originally formed to promote Rand's philosophy, closed in 1968, shortly after the end of their relationship.

Rand remained an active lecturer until 1981, when she gave her last public speech. She died in New York on March 6, 1982, but her legacy lives on. Several of her works were published posthumously, including The Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought (1988), Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 2nd Edition (1990), and The Letters of Ayn Rand (1995). The writings of Ayn Rand have sold more than 20 million copies. Her vision has impacted thousands of lives.

Further Reading

Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia of American Literature, HarperCollins, 1987, 1991.

Columbia Encyclopedia, Columbia University Press, 1993.

Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 99, Microsoft Corporation, 1993-1998

Madsen, Axel, Stanwyck Harper Collins, 1994.

Tannenhaus, Sam, Whittaker Chambers, Random House, 1997.

Who Was Who in America, Marquis Who's Who, Inc., 1982-1985.

National Review, October 9, 1995.

Newsday, February 13, 1998.

Reason, February 1, 1996.

Toronto Star, August 7, 1998. (October 25, 1999).

A Brief Biography of Ayn Rand, The Ayn Rand Institute, (October 28, 1999).

Ayn Rand, (October 18, 1999).

Major Works of Ayn Rand, (October 24, 1999). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Ayn Rand." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Ayn Rand." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . (December 15, 2017).

"Ayn Rand." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved December 15, 2017 from

Rand, Ayn

Ayn Rand (īn), 1905–82, American writer, b. St. Petersburg, Russia, as Alissa Rosenbaum. She came to the United States in 1926, became a citizen five years later, and worked for many years as a Hollywood screenwriter. Her novels are romantic, dramatic, and often didactic, espousing a philosophy built on a muscular capitalism, aggressive individualism, and a rational self-interest that opposes the collective nature of the modern welfare state and totalitarian societies. These principles are rather woodenly embodied in the plots, heroes, and villains of her major novels, The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957). In For the New Intellectual (1961) she summarized her philosophy, which she called "objectivism" ; it posits a concrete external reality, idea-driven emotions, and self-interest as ethical ideal. Her works have had a notable influence on many of America's political and economic conservatives.

See the memoir by N. Branden (1989); biographies by B. Branden (1987), J. Burns (2009), and A. C. Heller (2009); study by J. T. Baker (1987); her letters, ed. by M. S. Berliner (1995), and her journals, ed. by D. Harriman (1997).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Rand, Ayn." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Rand, Ayn." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . (December 15, 2017).

"Rand, Ayn." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved December 15, 2017 from

Rand, Ayn


Ayn Rand (19051982) used her novels as a vehicle for her objectivist philosophy, which endorsed individualism by stressing "rational self-interest" over charity and the welfare state. Her best-known novels include The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957).

Ayn Rand was born Allisa Rosenbaum on February 2, 1905 in St. Petersburg, Russia, the first of Fronz and Anna Rosenbaum's three daughters. Her father was a self-made Jewish merchant. Rand taught herself to read and write by age four and had decided to become a writer by age nine. Her greatest hero was author Victor Hugo (18021885). Rand's family barely survived the siege of St. Petersburg during World War I (19141918), and they later lost their possessions in the Russian Revolution. As a teenager, Rand learned to hate her country's new communist doctrine and vowed to make it her life's work to use the written word to prove that doctrine wrong.

After graduating with a degree in history from the University of Leningrad in 1926, Rand immigrated to the United States. In her new country, she changed her name to Ayn Rand. She lived with relatives in Chicago, Illinois, for a few months before moving to Hollywood to work as a screenwriter and movie extra. There, she met actor Frank O'Connor, and the two were married in 1929. Rand became a U.S. citizen in 1931.

Penthouse Legend, Rand's first play, was produced on Broadway in 1934. Two years later she published her first novel, We the Living (1936). It was set during the Russian Revolution and condemned communism and those who would follow its principle of sacrificing self for the state. Her next novel, Anthem was published in 1938. The Fountainhead (1943), Rand's most famous work, was initially turned down by several publishers for being considered too intellectual for a mass market. The novel took four years to complete, but became the medium through which Rand defended her philosophical beliefs. Her hero, brilliant architect Howard Roark, blows up his own building when the architectural establishment alters its design. Using a classic metaphor, Roark symbolizes "good" while the establishment is "evil." The book was highly praised by critics and hit the national bestseller list several times during 1945. Hollywood even hired her to write the screenplay.

Rand's later works include Atlas Shrugged (1957), For the New Intellectual (1961), The Virtue of Selfishness (1965), The Romantic Manifesto (1969), and PhilosophyWho Needs It? (1982). Atlas Shrugged, concerned with the philosophical faults of collective societies, became her second most popular novel.

Rand spent a large part of her career defending her philosophy of objectivism. During the 1960s and 1970s, she was a visiting lecturer at the Nathaniel Branden Institute and other American university campuses, including Harvard and Yale. The Ayn Rand Letter and Objectivist Bulletin were circulated to promote her philosophy. Rand's pro-capitalist views are considered by some to have helped influence the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Ayn Rand died on March 6, 1982 in New York City.

See also: Capitalism, Laissez Faire


Harriman, David. Journals of Ayn Rand. New York: Dutton, 1997.

Landrum, Gene N., Ph.D. Profiles of Female Genius: Thirteen Creative Women Who Changed the World. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1994.

Peikoff, Leonard. Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. New York: Meridian, 1993.

Rand, Ayn. The Letters of Ayn Rand. New York: Dutton, 1995.

Sciabarra, Chris Matthew. Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995.

civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. the savage's whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. civilization is the process of setting man free from men.

ayn rand, the fountainhead, 1943

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Rand, Ayn." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Rand, Ayn." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . (December 15, 2017).

"Rand, Ayn." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Retrieved December 15, 2017 from