Origins of Atlas Shrugged

dooleyagitatorBefore Ayn Rand’s third birthday in Russia, the financial world was turned upside-down by the Panic of 1907. China had suffered a humiliating defeat by the reach of the Japanese navy, and that empire’s hegemony along the Chinese coast proved itself capable of ousting the Russians. Japan and England then funnelled opium, morphine and syringes into the Celestial Empire at will, aided and abetted by wealthy Yankee traders (to the embarrassment of the Roosevelt Administration). The Boxer Rebellion of 1900-01 was not America’s finest hour and the Chinese were disappointed for good cause.

Things came to a head when the Chinese organized a boycott of American products. One of the reasons was that the U.S. export version of Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup–unlike its English competitor–did not identify morphine as a baby-soothing ingredient on the label. The Pure Food law of 1906 soon fixed that. But when it became effective in 1907, the gates swung open to a stampede of prohibitionist fanatics and trade regulation lobbyists. Whiskey, sardines, glucose syrup and margarine were regulated and redefined, and ice houses were quickly surrounded by torchlight parades and pitchfork posses of angry Christian teetotalitarians. Looming economic troubles caused investors to liquidate stocks and hoard cash. The collapsing economy galvanized organized labor into action for interesting times indeed, and these were commented on by Peter Finley Dunne, poet laureate of the Chicago Irish. His Mr. Dooley protagonist raised the possibility of bankers and industrialists going on strike:

Supposin’ Rockyfellar an’ Pierpont Morgan an’ Jim Hill shud form a union, an’ shud demand a raise iv a millyon dollars a year, reduction iv wurrukin’ time fr’m two to wan hour ivry week, th’ closed shop, two apprentices f’r each bank an’ no wan allowed to make money onless he cud show a union card? Whin th’ sthrike comity waited on us we’d hoist our feet on th’ kitchen table, light a seegar, polish our bone collar button with th’ sleeve iv our flannel shirt an’ till thim to go to Bannagher.

So thought Americans back when Communism would, according to clergy, reformers and politicians, be altruistic and good and Individualism–again, in theory–was a thing to be abolished by force of law.


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