Sturm, Ruger & Company: A Brief History

Ruger Firearms Patch on Wood

Armed with a talent for gun design, a dedication for improving manufacturing techniques and a keen eye for seeing the needs in the shooting community, William B. Ruger led the Sturm, Ruger & Company, Inc. to become the 4th largest firearms manufacturer in the United States. In fact, Sturm, Ruger is the only US firearms manufacturer that produces firearms in all 4 market segments: rifles, shotguns, handguns and revolvers. William B. Ruger was born in Brooklyn, New York on June 21, 1916. He always had an interest in firearms manufacturing and during high school would visit machine shops to learn about machining and techniques. While in liberal arts college, Ruger developed preliminary designs for what turned into a light machine gun. After spending two years in college, William Ruger dropped out to pursue a career in firearms design and manufacturing. Finding it difficult to get a position at one of the big firearms manufacturers in New England, Ruger decided to move back to North Carolina, where his wife was from. It was here that he accepted an offer to work at Springfield Armory in Massachusetts as a firearms designer. His paycheck from the Springfield Armory was not enough to support his family, so Ruger quit and again went back to his machine gun design.

Ruger had a prototype of his machine gun built in a local machine shop that would meet the military’s specifications. He presented it to all the major players in the industry, but not a one took a bite. Ruger finally landed a position at the Auto Ordnance Corporation in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he was able to spend three years perfecting the design of his machine gun. The final design was finished in 1944, but the gun never saw any action. By the time the machine gun was ready for testing, WWII was ending and the U.S. Government had no more need for a new light machine gun.

Ruger left Auto Ordnance to take a stab at designing and producing his own firearms. With a Nambu pistol he received from a U.S. Marine, Ruger modified the design and the .22 Ruger Standard semi-automatic pistol was born. Without having any money of his own to produce the pistol, Ruger joined in a partnership with Alexander Sturm. Sturm was a rich graduate of Yale Art School who had an interest in firearms and his family let the pair borrow $50,000 to start the Sturm, Ruger & Company, Inc. The company took out its first patents in 1946 and in 1949, Sturm, Ruger and Company had rented out a small machine shop in Southport, Connecticut to produce the .22 Ruger Standard. The pistol was ready for sale a year later. Due to its inexpensive cost, reliability, accuracy and aesthetic appeal, the .22 Ruger Standard was an instant success. The company soon had the money to pay back the Sturm family and reported a profit in the first year of business. The Sturm, Ruger and Company has never lost or borrowed money since.

In 1951, Alexander Sturm passed away, so William Ruger took control over the company continuing the path of success the .22 Ruger Standard started. Colt stopped producing the Single-Action Army single-action revolver after WWII and due to the popularity of Westerns; Ruger saw an open market for a new single-action revolver. In 1953, Ruger developed the Ruger Single-Six. The Ruger Single-Six proved just as successful as the .22 Standard. The 2008 Standard Catalog of Firearms writes, “With few exceptions, this company has shown itself to be accurate in gauging what the gun buying public wants.” Just ten years later, Ruger introduces another wildly successful firearm, the Ruger 10/22.

The Ruger 10/22 is the most popular .22 rifle in America. The 10/22 is offered in many different variations, is affordable and reliable. Another reason for its popularity is the availability of aftermarket parts.

Ruger was always looking for ways to produce his firearms more efficiently and with a higher quality. In 1953, he incorporated a new machining technique called precision investment casting. This new type of technology produced stronger parts and produced less waste. In the early 1980s, Ruger again switched to newer technology, CNC-machining.

Through the 1980s and into the early 1990s, most firearms manufacturers were struggling. Even Colt and Winchester were facing bankruptcy or buy-outs by larger corporations. Ruger remained as the only independent firearms manufacturer left, and was still profitable. All through the 1980s, 1990s and early into the 21st Century, the firearms industry was moving into threatening times. Lawsuits, sensationalized shootings, (including ones involving Ruger’s Mini-14), and the Assault Weapons Ban threatened to destroy the entire firearms industry. In March of 1989, William B. Ruger sent a letter to the House and Senate stating his opinion that “no honest man needs more than 10 rounds in any gun.” Was it Ruger’s honest philosophy or was it a strategic business decision? Ruger’s Mini-14 had been sold since 1974 and the upcoming Assault Weapons Ban would have made the Mini-14 an illegal gun. Ruger is told to have said to insiders, “We need to save our little gun.” Aggravating the matter further, in the year 2000, Sturm, Ruger added new wording into the contracts that had with their distributors, not allowing the distributors to sell Ruger firearms at gun shows. The contract stated that distributors only sell “to federally licensed firearms dealers selling exclusively from their regular place of business.” Ruger’s stance on high-capacity magazines was very unpopular with the shooting community and some people still today will not purchase Sturm, Ruger & Company products.

Today Ruger sells 20- and 30-round capacity magazines and has entered the AR-15 platform market with its SR-556, introduced in 2009.

William B. Ruger retired in October of 2000 and passed away July 6, 2002. Despite the controversy surrounding Ruger and his public stance on high capacity magazine, the Sturm, Ruger & Company is undoubtedly one of the most successful firearms manufacturers in the United States and quite possibly even in the whole world. According to “Guns in American Society: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics, Culture and Law” the Sturm, Ruger & Company produce over 700,000 firearms a year and The Gun Zone reports that “his company has produced more types of firearms than any other firearms firm in the world.” In 2001, William B. Ruger was unanimously elected as an Honorary Life Member by the NRA Board of Directors. The 26th Edition of the Blue Book of Gun Values says it perfectly: “He is remembered for his visionary efforts in firearms manufacturing and marketing, exceptional design skills, and his philanthropic donations in support of the firearms industry.” (2006)

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Comments (4)

  1. Looking back on life I was a 10 yr old boy fishing for blue shell crabs in Southport harbor by a section known as Tide Mill in the 50’s less than a half mile from the plant. Little did I realize I would someday own a Ruger bull barrel 10/22 and a model 5771 Ruger 357 magnum revolver. This site brings back fond memories of a still great company started in a great Town of Fairfield, CT, a section known as Southport.

  2. “The 2008 Standard Catalog of Firearms writes, “With few exceptions, this company has shown itself to be accurate in gauging what the gun buying public wants.” Just ten years later, Ruger introduces another wildly successful firearm, the Ruger 10/22.” I think that is a typo as I am pretty sure that the Ruger 10/22 was not introduced in 2018.

  3. I am writing an article on Ruger SR22. Your article is the first really well-written and comprehensive article that I have come across. Really worthwhile information. I enjoyed reading it.

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