|Ruger Pistol History|
Ruger's centerfire and rimfire autoloading pistols have framed the company's history from the beginning. Here's a look at the first half-century of Ruger pistol history.
he Ruger name in firearms was born in the summer of 1949 when a small advertisement appeared in the pages of the American Rifleman. "The 22 RUGER pistol," it heralded; "the first overall improvement in automatic pistol design since the Browning patent of 1905...for simplicity, strength, and handsomeness it has no equal." There was a sketch of a 22 LR autoloader that had a silhouette resembling a classic Luger without the toggle bolt, and some who saw the ad, in fact, first thought the "R" in Ruger was a misprint, that it was really an announcement for a new 22 Luger. But the full company name at the bottom cleared things up: Sturm, Ruger & Co. Inc., Southport, Connecticut.
Price? A mere $37.50.
Rimfire Auto Pistols
Thus appeared what soon became, and remains today, the largest selling, most popular 22 autoloading pistol in history, with over 2,000,000 sold. This first Ruger 22 pistol, soon to be known as the "Standard Model," featured a 4 3/4-inch tapered barrel with six-groove, 1:14 RH-twist rifling. It was definitely different. It had no "slide" as in conventional-form autoloaders but instead employed a cylindrical bolt that operated within a tubular receiver-more resembling a 22 semi-auto rifle than other 22 auto pistols. Coil/music wire springs, not conventional flat springs, were used throughout its mechanism. The dovetailed rear sight was fixed atop the receiver and, therefore, did not move when the gun was fired (still another difference from the typical Colt or High Standard 22 auto pistols of the day).
From a manufacturing point of view, the most innovative aspect was that the pistol's frame was constructed of facing halves stamped from two flat sheets of steel and then welded together. Again not typical, but more than strong enough a 22 LR action and notably less expensive to produce than the forged or milled frames used by other 22 pistol makers - which was the main reason for the new Ruger pistol's remarkably low price respective to its competition, a position it kept for many, many years.
Other details of its features included a nine-shot magazine that was released by a locking latch at the base of the grip frame. There was no automatic hold-open after the last round in a magazine was fired, but the bolt could be manually locked open by engaging the manual safety while holding the bolt to the rear. The safety itself could only be clicked on when the hammer was cocked. The rear of the bolt had protruding "ears" for grasping when cocking the action. The grip panels were black checkered Butaprene rubber, and the left panel featured an inset of the company's "Red Eagle" emblem. (Bill Ruger's financial partner Alex Sturm was a student of heraldry and liked the traditional central-European eagle motif.)
And it was no accident that the Ruger 22 did have a distinct similarity in appearance to the classic Luger. It was simply the first example of Bill Ruger's genius at creating innovative and original firearms designs while at the same time still tapping the wellsprings of American shooters' nostalgic fondness for traditional designs.
The Ruger Standard Model 22 auto was an instant success. By the day the operation had to spend the last dime of the original $50,000 investment with which the two partners began, there were 100 guns ready to leave the factory to fill prepaid orders (Ruger refused to cash any customers' checks until the pistols were made). The first production pistols shipped in the fall of 1949. From that moment onward, Sturm, Ruger & Co. has been sustained with profit from sales, never borrowing a cent. Sturm died in November of 1951 from viral hepatitis, and Bill Ruger ordered the color of the company's logo forever changed from red to black.
No sooner than the Standard Model 22 auto was on the market, new versions, variations, and small design modifications and refinements also began to be produced. The first major addition was the Mark I Target pistol, which was announced in December of 1950. It was mechanically the same as the Standard Model gun but had a tapered 6 7/8-inch barrel, a Patridge front sight blade undercut to reduce glare, a "Micro-adjustable" rear sight, and an improved trigger with stops to reduce slack and overtravel. In September of 1952, Ruger also introduced a Mark I Target Model with a 5 1/4-inch tapered barrel. It was manufactured only in limited quantities until 1957. Today it's a collector's item.
Next to appear (in late 1954) was a six-inch version of the fixed-sight Standard Model, otherwise exactly the same as the 4 3/4-inch gun (these two configurations are still offered as the "Standard" format today). The 5 1/2-inch Bull Barrel Mark I Target Model was introduced in 1963, and the bull-barrel style has since become the most popular of the target-sighted guns.
And all these versions and variations sold-and sold-and continue to sell. The one-millionth Ruger Standard Model pistol came off the line in 1979. It was engraved and gold inlaid, fitted with an ivory set of Red Eagle grip panels (the first to be used since the death of Alex Sturm), and then auctioned by Ruger to benefit the International Shooter Development Fund.
Throughout the first 33 years of continuous production, the basic mechanical operation of the Standard Model and Mark I pistols remained essentially unchanged, just as Bill Ruger had originally designed it. The differences among them consisted only of variations in barrel shape and length and type of sights-and one small modification to the grip frame was made in 1971 when the original forming dies for the two halves (after 22 years) finally wore out. The new dies were made so that the cut on the bottom of the grip frame where the magazine follower button fits was on the left side, which is the opposite side from before. The new frame style was designated the "A 100" frame and was stamped as such under the left grip panel. Pistols with A 100 frames are termed different from the older guns in that their grip panels are not interchangeable (the Ruger eagle medallion is on the right panel on the New Model guns), and older magazines cannot be used in these later guns. The magazines made for the newer guns, however, have button slots on both sides and can be used in older guns simply by switching the button from the left to the right side (still an important fact to know, given the hundreds of thousands of older guns still in operation and circulation).
This minor change was a harbinger of things to come. Ruger decided to add a bolt lock to the gun so that the bolt would stay open after the last round in the magazine was fired. This lock would be actuated by the magazine follower button when it reached the top of the magazine, and it would be on the left side of the frame for right-handed use. The original magazine button was on the wrong side. So when the time came to make new forming dies for the frame, they were changed. The new feature would appear as part of a comprehensive redesign and upgrade in 1982.
The final original-design Ruger Standard Model pistol came off the assembly line on the last working day of December 1981, to be superseded henceforth by the Mark II Standard Model and Mark II Target Model guns. To commemorate the end of the Standard Model era, Ruger produced a limited run of 5000 stainless-steel 4 3/4-inch Standard Models in original wood-box packaging and bearing Bill Ruger's engraved signature on the receiver.
The new generation of Mark II pistols would have the same list of variations in terms of barrel styles and sight systems but also included several new mechanical features. There was the new bolt lock. There were twin scallops, or recesses, at the rear sides of the receiver to allow easier grasp of the ears of the bolt when cocking. There was a further redesign of the magazine, giving it a 10-round capacity instead of the previous nine. Most significantly, the safety was redesigned so that it locked only the sear instead of both bolt and sear. This allows the bolt to be pulled to the rear for visual inspection of the chamber and loading or unloading while the safety is engaged instead of requiring the safety to be taken off to inspect the chamber. Other improvements included a better designed trigger pivot retainer (a music wire spring instead of a lock washer), which makes it easier to disassemble and reassemble the gun.
The new Mark II pistols have continued to be as popular among shooters as their predecessors, and several new versions have been added. In 1982 the stainless-steel Mark II autos were announced (all variations of both the Standard and Target versions are currently available in stainless or blued steel), and a 10-inch Bull Barrel Target Model was added to the catalog in 1984-also available in either blued or stainless steel. In 1986 came the Mark II Government Target Model, which can best be described as the "competition-grade" version of the Ruger 22 autoloader line. In essence, this new gun is a 6 7/8-inch Bull Barrel version of the Mark II Target Model with higher profile adjustable sights. It was created to meet U.S. Military specifications for match-grade pistols and was chosen as the standard target and training handgun of the US Armed Forces, replacing earlier models from Ruger and other manufacturers. The civilian version of the Ruger Government Model is identical to the military version except that the "US" stamping over the serial number is not present.
The stainless-steel version of the Government Target Model Mark II was announced at the 1991 SHOT Show, along with a new Standard 22 Pistol Competition Model. The Competition Model is essentially a stainless Government Model with a flat-sided 6 7/8-inch barrel and a unique receiver-mounted base adaptor that encloses the adjustable rear sight and also provides a mounting mechanism for Ruger's scope ring system. The adaptor screw attaches to the top of the pistol's receiver and can be removed should the user wish, leaving the rear sight intact.
The most recent series added to the Ruger 22 pistol lineup is the 22/45 family, introduced in 1993, which blends all the traditional mechanical and operating features of the Ruger Mark I and Mark II 22 pistols with a frame injection molded from glass-filled solid matte black polymer nylon (the same basic material used by Remington for its classic Nylon 66 22 autoloading rifles and for the XP-100 single-shot pistol). The 22/45 series was Ruger's first polymer-component handgun. It's currently available in stainless fixed-sight Standard format with 4 3/4-inch tapered barrel or stainless 5 1/2-inch bull barrel target style plus a blued 5 1/2-inch bull barrel target model and a unique blued four-inch bull-barrel target version.
This group of guns is called 22/45 because the grip angle and grip configuration is deliberately designed to reproduce the basic shape and feel of the classic Browning/Colt Government Model 1911 .45 auto pistol. Moreover, the magazine release mechanism on this gun has been transformed from the steel-version Ruger Mark II 22s' spring latch at the base of the butt to a one-hand-operable Model 1911-type button just behind the trigger guard on the left side of the frame. Thus the magazines for the 22/45 pistols will not interchange with magazines for Ruger Mark II or Mark I autoloaders, and the polymer buttplates on the 22/45 magazines are configured to meld seamlessly into the bottom configuration of the grip. Also, the 22/45's trigger guard configuration is quite different from either the "Lugeresque" circular style of the steel Ruger autos or the flat oval of the Model 1911. Instead it has a tilted oval shape with a distinct bulge along the rear of its bottom surface and a subtle but definite hook at its lower front that allows the shooter a solid wrap around the front of the trigger guard with the forefinger of the nonfiring hand when using a two-hand hold.
The 22/45 guns bring the current catalog list of Ruger 22 pistol model variations to 18. Blue steel, stainless steel, polymer frame, barrel lengths from four to 10 inches, tapered or bull barrels, fixed or adjustable sights, Ruger offers the largest number of sporting 22 pistols in the world-something for everybody. Half a century and demand has never slowed.
Page One - Beginnings, Rimfire Auto Pistols
Page Two - Centerfire Auto Pistols, Pistol Chronology (Intro/Discontinued dates)
This article was originally published in Shooting Times magazine in April, 1999.