Everyone knows the names and usually the stories of John Browning, Samuel Colt and Gaston Glock. However, the name William (Bill) B. Ruger is usually not spoken in the same breath as those weapon designers—that is a mistake.
Much like the great John Browning, Bill Ruger became interested in firearms at a very early age and his focus was on making a mark in the industry like the famous Samuel Colt. He began working on a semiautomatic version of a Savage lever-action rifle. He presented his design to both Savage and Colt while living in Connecticut. Neither company was interested in his design. Springfield Armory, however, was and offered him gainful employment. Ruger did not last a year at Springfield. He wanted to be a designer and a leader; not a follower.
He renewed his quest to be a designer by working on a compact, easily carried, light machine gun in 1940—four years before the introduction of the StG 44 and seven years before some guy named Kalashnikov introduced his well know invention. The Auto Ordinance folks who produced the Thompson machine gun recognized his work. Auto-Ordinance offered Ruger a job and he remained there for the next seven years.
The STURM in Ruger
We cannot ignore the short tragic story of Ruger’s business partner, Alexander McCormick Sturm. Sturm was born to a wealthy Connecticut family in 1923. A graduate of Yale University, Alex was already an accomplished artist and published author of two children books. In 1944, he married Theodore ‘Teddy” Roosevelt’s granddaughter.
Alex was an avid collector of knives, swords and guns. His love of guns was how he crossed paths with Bill Ruger and heard of Ruger’s dream. Alex and his wife, Paulina, believed in Ruger’s vision and anted up the initial capital of $50,000 dollars for the new venture in 1948. Alex, as an artist, even designed the red Germanic Heraldic Eagle—the symbol of Ruger today.
Paulina Sturm would stuff envelopes on weekends to promote the company. I am fascinated, with all her political ties she still chose to do this because she so believed in Ruger’s message. In November 1951, Alex fell suddenly ill. Within 10 days, he would be dead at age 28. Bill Ruger had the Eagle changed to black in his friend’s honor. Paulina was unable to stop the downslide of depression following her husband’s death and took her life five years later at age 31. As a matter of respect, I will try to remember to say the Sturm not just Ruger when I refer to this company.
Ruger Moves On
In 1953, Bill released one of his first firearms. It was the Ruger Single Six, based on the Colt SAA firearms platform. Ruger always stressed simplicity in manufacturing and maximization of profits. In the current firearms market, there is an ignorant hue and cry about profit. Words like gouging and profiteering are slung around without any knowledge of what it takes to start, run and keep a business going. The very essence of our country is a free market. The first goal of a business is to make money and Bill Ruger was a free market capitalist. Do you know what the opposite of that is? I do–Econ 101 class dismissed.
Ruger’s Single Six was designed to take advantage of the continuing love and lore of the cowboy days. This gun would remain in production for 20 years. In 1955 he would make these single actions into hand-cannons with the epic Blackhawk series in .357 Magnum. This was, and continues to be, a great firearm in both .357 and .44 Magnum (1956).
Without a doubt, the most famous and most produced firearm from the company is the Ruger 10/22 rifle. With over 5 million sold following its introduction in 1964, it is the best semi-automatic, magazine fed, .22LR rifle ever produced. I would question your gun guru status if you have never owned or at least fired one of these little beauties. Others have come close but this is the best in my humble opinion.
Other great offerings by this company are the single-action Vaqueros (1995), the double-action GP-100 (1986) and SP-101 (1991), Security Six (1970), Redhawk (1979), and the mighty Mini-14 Ranch Rifle (1967/73). One cannot ignore the M-77 series as a staple in the bolt-action rifle category.
The Genius of Ruger
Unlike the intellect of Browning, Glock and Colt, Bill Ruger’s ingenuity was not in creating from scratch but improving on ideas, simplifying the process and making it more durable. Ruger’s weapons have always been cost-effective and very sturdy.
However, the greatest example of this ingenuity is in one of his very first firearms—the.22 Mark I (Mk I) Model T678 released in 1949. At first look firearm aficionados see either the Luger P08 or the Nambu Pistol. I see both. Upon further reading, I discovered Ruger had access to both a bring-back Nambu pistol and a German Luger.
Growing up my grandfather carried a 1917 Luger P08 out the door every time he left the house—my first introduction to a personal protection daily carry firearm. Furthermore, it was the first handgun I ever fired at the age of 9. Maybe because it was the first handgun I ever shot or maybe it was my photographic memory, but when my best friend in high school proudly revealed to me his new Ruger Mk pistol, I knew I had seen it before.
It wasn’t until I became a living icon at Call of Duty –World at War–did I recognize the other shapes of the Ruger Mk series. It was definitely the bolt charger, top of the receiver, and the trigger guard on the Nambu. In the MkI, we see not so much innovation but the amalgamation of two ideas that outlived both original designs. Don’t believe me? Look at a Mini-14 Ranch Rifle and what do you really see?
In the shadow of Smith &Wesson, Colt and Remington, Sturm Ruger has always been the other guy. I can tell you in writing this post, in the future I will take pause when I speak of the grand manufacturers and put Sturm Ruger up as one of the great American firearm manufacturers.