Ayn Rand was born Alisa Rosenbaum on February 2, 1905, in St. Petersburg (later Petrograd, then Leningrad), Russia. She hated the religious mysticism of Russia, later calling the country “an accidental cesspool of civilization.” But St. Petersburg was an exception, the cultural center of Russia and a window on Western civilization. Influenced by the Enlightenment, the arts and education flourished. It was in this atmosphere that the young Alisa taught herself to read (at age six), began asking “why” about the world around her, and developed a policy she called “thinking in principle.”

Alisa – ca. 1907
Alisa, probably at family dacha (country cottage)
Russian Symbols – 1913
Czar Nicholas and monks represent Holy Mother Russia
Alisa – ca. 1907
First studio photo of Alisa
City and River – ca. 1930s
The Neva River and St. Petersburg, where Alisa was born


Alisa’s parents were from upper-middle-class Jewish backgrounds but the Rosenbaum home was nonreligious. Her father Zinovy was a successful pharmacist, and her mother Anna was a teacher and held intellectual salons at home. Both parents valued education and encouraged their children to be independent and purposeful: everyone, wrote Anna, “is the maker of his own happiness.” At age nine Alisa decided to become a writer. Her younger sister Natasha was an accomplished piano student, and her youngest sister Nora became a successful exhibit and graphic designer.

Alisa and Father – ca. 1907
Alisa with her father Zinovy and her doll
Natasha and Alisa – ca. 1900s
Alisa, on right, with sister Natasha (2.5 years younger)
Mother and Daughters – ca. 1910s
Anna with her two oldest daughters (Alisa, on left)
Family Portrait – ca. 1910s
The Rosenbaum family, probably at Terijoki, Finland
Extended Family – ca. 1910s
L to r: cousin Vera, Natasha, cousin Evgenia, Alisa, Anna


From an early age, Alisa wrote film scenarios and stories depicting heroic characters accomplishing great deeds. “I did not start by trying to describe the folks next door,” she would later say. What she had in mind was “a blinding picture of people as they could be.” In this quest she was inspired by exciting stories such as The Mysterious Valley, which she read in French, and by writers such as Walter Scott, Edmond Rostand and, especially, Victor Hugo, because he wrote about important things and projected “the grandeur of man.”

Champagne Cover – ca. 1915
The Mysterious Valley, source of Rand’s first fictional hero
Fyodor Dostoevsky – ca. 1881
“What I liked [about Dostoevsky] was the moralistic tone.”
Sir Walter Scott – n.d.
“I loved [Scott’s] Ivanhoe; I think it was wonderful.”
Victor Hugo – n.d.
“The greatest of Romantic novelists was Victor Hugo.”
Edmond Rostand – n.d.
“[Cyrano de Bergerac] is the greatest play in world literature.”


As she got older, Alisa became increasingly interested in politics, which she often discussed with her father. From the window of their apartment, she witnessed the first shots of the Russian Revolution in February 1917. First was the non-Communist revolution led by Alexander Kerensky, whom Alisa admired. But then came the Bolshevik Revolution that brought tyranny to Russia. Even at age twelve, Alisa was repelled by the Bolsheviks’ insistence that the individual must live for the state.

The Three Sisters – ca. 1915
L to r: Nora, Alisa, Natasha
Znamenskaya Sq. – 1917
Crowd below Rosenbaum apartment building (left) during the Revolution
Dictator Lenin – 1917
Lenin’s Bolsheviks were “armed gangs with a few intellectuals”


To escape the fighting during the Revolution, Alisa’s family fled to Crimea, where she finished high school. When introduced to American history in her last year of gymnasium, she immediately took America as her model of what a nation of free men could be. It was also in 1917 that she began a philosophic diary, analyzing a wide variety of basic philosophic issues. She later burned the diary, because its anti-Communist ideas could have meant a death sentence. The final Communist victory in Russia brought the end of her father’s career as a pharmacist and periods of near-starvation.

Graduation Class – ca. 1910s
Alisa [lower left] and class at Yevpatoria Gymnasium No. 4
Political Freedom – n.d.
Alisa learned about America’s political system in her Russian gymnasium.
Gulag (a labor camp) – n.d.
The Rosenbaums returned to Petrograd from Crimea in 1921


When Alisa’s family returned from the Crimea, she entered the University of Petrograd to study history and philosophy. Graduating in 1924 she experienced the destruction of free inquiry and the takeover of the university by gangs of communist students. Long an admirer of cinema (she even kept a film diary), she entered the State Institute for Cinema Arts in 1924 to study screenwriting. It was then that she was first published: a booklet on actress Pola Negri (1925) and a booklet titled Hollywood: American Movie City (1926), both reprinted in 1999 in Russian Writings on Hollywood.

Univ. of Petrograd – 1921
Alisa’s university application photo
Peter-Paul Museum – ca. 1920s
The city history museum where Alisa worked as a guide
The Museum Guide – 1924
Alisa in her guide uniform
Film Student – 1924–25
Alisa, likely location, the Institute for Cinema Art
Early Publication – 1926
Cover of Hollywood: American Movie City


During this period Alisa discovered a “spiritual escape” from Soviet Russia: Viennese and German operettas, which she could afford to attend only by saving her streetcar fare and walking to school through the harsh Russian winters. Operetta “was my first great art passion. That really saved my life. It was the most marvelous benevolent universe . . . the one positive fuel that I could have. My sense of life was kept going on that.” But foreign films began to supplant operettas as her main inspiration, because they were “a much more specific, not merely symbolic, view of life abroad.”

Operetta Spirit – ca. 1930s
Drawing by Nora represents the spirit of the operetta
Emmerich Kálmán – ca. 1920s
Kálmán’s operetta Bajadere was referenced in We the Living
Street of Cinema – ca. 1910s
Nevsky Prospekt, where Alisa saw dozens of films
Conrad Veidt – 1921
Rand’s favorite actor and her idol as a teenager
Lang’s Siegfried – 1924
Every film frame is as “perfect . . . as a great painting.”


In 1925, Alisa’s mother arranged for her to visit relatives in Chicago. Alisa told Soviet authorities that she was going to America to learn filmmaking in order to help build the Soviet film industry. But she had no intention of ever returning to Russia. (She later commented that had she remained and written “her kind” of [pro-individualist] screenplays, she “would’ve been dead within a year.”) She left Leningrad on January 17, 1926, celebrated her 21st birthday in Berlin, and on February 10, sailed for New York from France. A few weeks later, the Soviets forbade such visits. After leaving Russia, Rand’s father predicted she would leave a mark and become world famous.

Rand’s Passport – 1925
October 29, 1925, Rand received permission to leave Russia
Passport Photo – ca. 1925
A photo by a St. Petersburg photography studio
Berlin, Germany – 1925
With her cousin Vera on Rand’s 21st birthday
Passage to America
Rand sailed to America aboard the S.S. De Grasse
En Route – 1925
Part of Rand’s ticket for her voyage on the S.S. De Grasse


On February 19, 1926, Alisa arrived in America, the seemingly unattainable country and her ideal of individual liberty. After living with her Chicago relatives for six months, she left for Hollywood with an introduction to DeMille Studios, and a new name: Ayn Rand. On her second day in California, she had a chance meeting with Cecil B. DeMille, her favorite American director, who soon hired her as a film extra and then a writer. In 1929 she got a job in RKO Radio Pictures’s wardrobe department but quit in 1932 when she sold a scenario, “Red Pawn,” to Paramount Pictures. Her career had begun.

Times Square – ca. 1934
“I wrote Mother a description of the lights on Broadway.”
Chicago Residence – ca. 1925
Where Rand lived with relatives on Chicago’s Southside
In Chicago – 1926
Rand during her six months in Chicago
Hollywood – ca. 1926
The real “city of movies”
Letter from USSR – n.d.
This 1926 letter from Nora is one of 900 from Rand’s family


On her first bus ride to DeMille Studios, Rand had been captivated by a fellow passenger. She ran into him (literally) on the backlot of The King of Kings. He was actor Frank O’Connor. Losing track of him when shooting ended, she met him by chance at the Hollywood library; they began dating and were married on April 15, 1929. They were married until Frank’s death in 1979. “All my heroes will always be reflections of Frank,” she said. After a brief film career and many jobs, Frank became an artist in the 1950s. Rand described his paintings as “laughter let loose in the universe.”

Drawing of Frank – c. 1926
Rand drew a sketch of Frank after seeing him on a film set
Frank as Actor – ca. 1920s
Frank had small parts in numerous films, including Cimarron
The O’Connors – ca. 1920s
Ayn and Frank
Many Roles – ca. 1930s
Frank’s “composite” of poses as actor and model


In 1933, while working on some long-range projects, Rand got the idea for a play about a murder trial whose verdict is determined by a jury selected from the audience. Night of January 16th would become her first commercial success. A well-received Los Angeles production (called Woman on Trial) was followed in 1935 by a Broadway production that ran for 29 weeks. Though frustrated at battles to preserve her script and disappointed by the final production, she nevertheless was thrilled to see her name in lights. Her career was taking off.

First Production – 1934
Ayn and Frank with cast of Woman on Trial
Theater Exterior – 1934
Hollywood Playhouse, Vine St. near Hollywood Blvd.
Rand at Theater – 1934
Rand first captures the public eye
Working in Film – ca. 1930s
Rand on apartment roof, with RKO Radio Pictures studios in background


After years of hard work, Rand finished her first novel, We the Living, in 1934. Set in Soviet Russia, it is her most autobiographical novel. Its theme is one that was important to her since childhood: the evil of the belief that the individual should live for the state. At her going-away party in St. Petersburg in 1926, a guest asked her to tell everyone in America that “Russia is a cemetery and we are slowly dying.” With the publication of We the Living in 1936 (despite opposition from pro-Communist editors), she had told Americans.

Writing – ca. 1933
Rand at her typewriter
Revising the Novel – 1933
First page from Rand’s revised manuscript
Book Publicity – 1936
Much-used Macmillan publicity photo
Book Cover – n.d.
The 1978 paperback edition. Cover art: Robert Heindel
The Telegram – 1937
The failure of Rand’s efforts to get her parents out of USSR


While taking a break from difficulties in working out the plot of her next novel, The Fountainhead, Rand spent two weeks writing a poetic novella she called Anthem. Based on a science fiction story she had conceived while in Russia, its theme is “the meaning of man’s ego,” a theme she projected into a world that had lost the very word “I.” The book was rejected by many American publishers, one of whom reported that the author didn’t understand socialism. Ironically, it was published in semi-socialist England in 1938 but not in America until 1946.

Manuscript – 1937
The first page of Anthem shows Rand’s editing
British Edition – n.d.
Replica of original jacket for the 1938 British edition
American Edition – 1953
Jacket of the first American hardbound edition
American Paperback – 1963
Dramatic cover of the 1963 paperback


When Rand came to the United States, she expected to find a country devoted to individual liberty. What she found was intellectual domination by collectivism, the ideology of the country she had escaped. Her activism began in 1936 with a talk warning of the dangers of Soviet Russia and continued with her work for the Wendell Willkie 1940 presidential campaign, where she answered questions in a Manhattan theater. She later engaged Broadway playwright and critic Channing Pollock in a failed attempt to form an “individualist organization” that would carry her political views to the public.

C. Pollock Letter
Letter from Rand on purpose of proposed organization
On Train to D.C. – 1947
Rand was a “friendly witness” before the HCUA
Screen Guide
Rand’s 1947 piece on the influence of Communism in Hollywood


The story of a modern architect who sets his own standards, The Fountainhead’s theme is “individualism versus collectivism, not in politics, but in man’s soul.” It is Rand’s first presentation of her ideal man—her reason for becoming a novelist—and is the book that made her famous. On the best-seller list for more than fifty weeks, it reached #6 two years after publication, and, in 1949, was made into a successful film starring Gary Cooper. The novel’s enduring popularity, she wrote in 1968, lies in its appeal to “the sense that one’s life is important” and “that great things lie ahead.”

Edited Page – 1938
Rand’s editing of the first page
Official Portrait – ca. 1943
A well-known portrait of Rand
Centennial Cover – n.d.
Novel hits the best-seller list eight months after publication
Top of the World – 1947
In Manhattan on the roof at Rockefeller Center


In late 1943 Rand sold the film rights to The Fountainhead. She and Frank then left her beloved Manhattan and returned to Hollywood to write the screenplay. What she hoped would be a short stay turned into another eight years in California, during which she wrote numerous other screenplays and completed The Fountainhead script, which was produced in 1949. After almost purchasing Frank Lloyd Wright’s Storer House, the O’Connors bought the Richard Neutra-designed Von Sternberg House, where Frank raised flowers and peacocks. Rand was now far removed from the poverty of Soviet Russia.

Ranch Hands – 1948
From a 1948 Valley Times story about Rand and the house
von Sternberg – 1948
The O’Connors lived in this Neutra-designed house for seven years
California Snow – 1949
A rare snowfall in Chatsworth
Enjoying the Sun – ca. 1940s
“As for the sunshine . . . it’s like an ad for Hollywood.”


When an acquaintance told Rand she had a duty to write a nonfiction work about her philosophy, Rand formed the idea for what would become her major work: Atlas Shrugged. What if I went on strike against such a duty, she thought. What if all the creative minds went on strike? As she started the novel, she realized that issues more fundamental than ethics were involved. This led her to the identification of a range of philosophic ideas that would make her story and heroic characters possible. It took her thirteen years to complete a novel that dramatized “the role of the mind in man’s existence.”

Researching Atlas Shrugged – 1947
Rand “driving” the Twentieth Century Limited
Early Notes – 1945
The novel was originally titled “The Strike”
At Work – 1947
Rand working on Atlas Shrugged at the California ranch
Editing – 1946
The first page of Atlas Shrugged (facsimile)


In 1943 Rand wrote in a letter from California: “I’m in love with New York, and I don’t mean I love it, but I mean I’m in love with it. Frank says that what I love is not the real city, but the New York I built myself. That’s true.” Nearly eight years later, in the fall of 1951, she and Frank finally drove back to Manhattan, where she lived the rest of her life. While in Russia, she had sat through multiple screenings of American silent films just to get a glimpse of Manhattan. With its high energy, productivity and skyscrapers, New York meant America to her.

Back “Home” – 1954
Manhattan skyline (Carl Van Vechten)
Ayn and Frank – ca. 1950s
Apartment curtains in Rand’s favorite color
Frank and Frisco – ca. 1950s
Rand liked cats for their intelligence and independence
Rand at Home – ca. 1950s
Rand in her Manhattan apartment


Beginning in the early 1950s, Rand’s friends were mainly a group that she jokingly called “The Collective.” They met informally to socialize, discuss ideas and even read the manuscript of Atlas Shrugged. This group was also instrumental in starting the Nathaniel Branden Institute, formed in 1962 to promote Rand’s philosophy. NBI presented both live lectures and taped courses, which were distributed throughout the world. It also maintained a book service and occasionally sponsored social events. NBI continued until 1968, when Rand broke with Branden over personal and professional issues.

Neighborly Visit – n.d.
With California neighbor Janet Gaynor, left
Rand and Peikoff – ca. 1953
Ayn Rand and Leonard Peikoff
The “Collective” – n.d.
Peikoff, Greenspan, the Brandens, Rand, and Mary Ann Sures


With the publication of Atlas Shrugged in 1957, Rand’s world changed. If The Fountainhead had made her famous, Atlas Shrugged made her a controversial figure for the rest of her life. There was now no doubt where she stood philosophically: she was the foremost philosophic defender of capitalism, egoism and reason, and an opponent of collectivism, altruism and religion. In contrast to the polite and often positive reaction to her other novels, the response to Atlas Shrugged was principally negative and often vicious. A best seller for nearly five months, it has sold more than eight million copies.

Happy with Work – 1957
Calendar entry: “3/20/1957—8:15—finished ‘Atlas Shrugged’”
Cover – October 1957
Cover of the first edition
In Paperback – 1959
Cover of the first paperback edition


Not willing to stand by while Atlas Shrugged was misrepresented and almost universally attacked by the critics, Rand undertook the task of explaining her philosophy. “I began to see that what I took as almost self-evident, was not self-evident at all.” Carrying her message to students and the public, she gave talks on her philosophy (which she named “Objectivism”) at university campuses from Wisconsin to Yale, had her own radio programs on two FM stations in New York, and made dozens of radio and television appearances on shows hosted by Mike Wallace, Johnny Carson, Phil Donahue and others.

Radio Appearance – 1958
Rand chats with guests at Minnesota reception
Chicago Speech – 1963
Twenty-five hundred attended this talk by Rand
Nash Advertisement – ca. 1963
Rand’s Chicago talk was widely advertised
Manuscript – ca. 1963
First page of Rand’s Chicago talk
Academic Award – 1963
Rand receives honorary doctorate at Lewis & Clark College


Rand’s first nonfiction book, For the New Intellectual, was published in 1961. It contains the main philosophic passages from her novels, but it was the title essay that brought her to the attention of the academic community. In that essay she explains that Western civilization is a clash between man the thinker and producer and his enemies, the men of faith and the men of force. If civilization is to survive, she argues, it must reject mysticism and the morality to which it leads (altruism), and replace these with a new philosophy of reason and rational self-interest.

Outline—Page 1 – 1960
Rand’s plan for the Atlas Shrugged excerpts in the anthology
First Edition – 1961
Jacket of the first hardcover edition
In Paperback – 2005
Cover of a recent paperback edition


In January 1962 Rand launched the first of several periodicals, the monthly Objectivist Newsletter. It was replaced four years later by The Objectivist and then in 1971 by the bi-weekly Ayn Rand Letter, which ceased publication in early 1976. These periodicals contain articles on philosophy and its application to a wide variety of topics (from art to politics to current events), as well as book reviews and events of interest to her subscribers.

First Periodical – ca. 1960s
Bound edition of Rand’s The Objectivist Newsletter
Second Periodical – ca. 1960s
Bound edition of Rand’s The Objectivist
Third Periodical – ca. 1970s
Bound edition of Rand’s last periodical, The Ayn Rand Letter


The Virtue of Selfishness (1964) is a compilation of articles on ethics, largely from her newsletter, and presents the essentials of Rand’s “new concept of egoism.” The Objectivist morality, she explains, is based not on religious faith or on majority opinion, but on the factual requirements of human survival. According to her new theory, each individual should live for his own happiness, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The book contains important applications of her morality to such topics as man’s rights and the evil of racism.

Manuscript – 1961
“The Objectivist Ethics” became a book chapter
First Paperback – ca. 1961
Lester Krauss’s famous photo of Rand on Wall St.
2005 Paperback – 2005
A more recent paperback edition


Capitalism, in Rand’s view, has long been attacked as immoral, and its true history has been subject to widespread distortion. This 1966 collection of essays seeks to correct some of these historical and economic myths, while offering a moral defense of capitalism as “the only system geared to the life of a rational being.” The book is not a treatise on economics, but a collection of essays on the philosophy of capitalism: the basic truths and principles that make capitalism the only moral and practical social system.

Folder for Book – ca. 1960s
Rand kept almost everything of her work
Table of Contents – ca. 1960s
Rand’s plan for the book’s contents
Table of Contents – ca. 1960s
Second page of planned contents
Paperback Edition – 1967
Cover art of this 1967 edition is by Robert Heindel


This is Ayn Rand’s call to American youth to reject the destructive ideas of the New Left in favor of “a philosophic revolution founded on the supremacy of reason.” It includes a tribute to space exploration, analyses of the deplorable state of education, and a critique of environmentalism (which she labeled “the anti-industrial revolution”). An edition (Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution) revised after her death includes essays by Rand on racism and tribal collectivism, along with critiques of environmentalism, feminism and multiculturalism by editor Peter Schwartz.

First Edition – 1971
This book was published only in paperback
Rand Advertises – ca. 1970s
For her endorsement ad in the New York Daily News
Revised Edition – 1998
Cover of the revised and expanded edition


In this 1975 collection of essays called The Romantic Manifesto, Rand presents her original theory of art. She explains the philosophic “nature of art and its importance in human life,” emphasizing the differences between Romantic literature (which presents man as volitional and heroic) and Naturalistic literature (which presents man as a helpless victim). She also discusses why art has such a profound and personal impact on the viewer, analyzes the basic principles of literature, describes the goal of her writing, and explains her view of what is and what is not art.

First Edition – 1969
Published by World Publishing
Later Drawing - n.d.
Rand exercised her skills in drawings of Frank
Expanded Edition – 1971
Rand’s “Art and Cognition” was added in 1971


For Rand, philosophy is the power that determines the life of an individual and a culture. And the most important branch of philosophy, she held, is epistemology, the study of knowledge. Human knowledge is held in the form of concepts; if our concepts refer to nothing in reality, then reason is worthless. Establishing the validity of concepts has been a philosophic problem since ancient Greece. Rand took on this problem and presented her solution in her most technical work, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. With it, she aimed to vindicate man’s mind and show its efficacy and power.

Manuscript – 1966
First page of “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology”
In Book Form – ca. 1960s
The book version was first serialized in The Objectivist
Expanded Edition – 1990
The 1990 edition contains Rand’s epistemology workshops


Rand’s top values were her career and Frank O’Connor. But she had many concrete values that exemplified her view that the purpose of morality is to enjoy one’s own life on earth. She loved her cats (whose names included “Los Angeles,” “Frisco” and “Tommy” for Thomas Aquinas), and she greatly enjoyed music (she left a large record collection), stamp collecting (she wrote an article titled “Why I Like Stamp Collecting”), and a group of friends with whom she engaged in marathon philosophic discussions. She lost her top value when Frank died on November 9, 1979.

A Feline Friend – 1964
With her cat, Puppy-Dog
Bojangles – 1933
Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, tap dancer (Carl Van Vechten)
Frank Painting – ca. 1960s
At work on a new painting
Frank’s Painting – ca. 1960s
Man Also Rises, 25th anniversary cover of The Fountainhead


Rand held that each one of us is guided by philosophic ideas, whether we know this or not and whether we choose to think about ideas or not. And these ideas have real consequences in our lives for better or worse, depending on whether they are rational or irrational, true or false. This essay collection, the last work planned by Rand before her death in 1982, brings together pieces of hers that touch on the theme of philosophy’s indispensable role in human life. The title essay is a talk that Rand gave on this subject to the 1974 graduating class at West Point.

West Point – n.d.
West Point, where Rand addressed graduating class in 1974
Early Paperback – ca. 1990s
This 1990s cover features Raphael’s School of Athens
Recent Paperback – 2005
Commemoration of Rand’s centennial


When Ayn Rand’s life came to an end on March 6, 1982, she had more than fulfilled her father’s prediction that she would leave a large mark and become world famous. After escaping the poverty and tyranny of Soviet Russia, she had become a successful screenwriter and playwright, a best-selling writer of novels that change people’s lives, and the originator of a new philosophy that is now studied in university classrooms. Her last line from a series of biographical interviews recorded in 1960–61 could sum up her view of life: “It’s a benevolent universe.”

With Mike Wallace – ca. 1980
At a party celebrating Wallace’s interview show
Teleplay Script – ca. 1980s
Rand’s last writing: one-third of a TV miniseries
Rand’s Works – ca. 1970s
Rand with some of her many works