Bill Ruger – Successful American Arms Maker

By Marc Cammack

William B. Ruger ( Bill Ruger )
William B. Ruger ( Bill Ruger )

AmmoLand Gun News

Maine -( The 20th century saw many great American firearms designers including John Browning, John Garand, and Eugene Stoner.

But another big name in the American firearms industry during the 20th century who would see much success was William Ruger.

Bill Ruger

Bill Ruger would be the subject of much controversy after 1989 due to his support of limiting magazine size. This article will not deal with this issue rather it will deal with what made Ruger successful against other large American companies such as Colt, and Winchester in the early days of the company.

Bill Ruger was born in 1916, and would grow up to have a love for firearms.

His hometown of Brooklyn, NY may seem odd today for someone to grow up in who would have such an impact in American firearms. Ruger would read up on firearms and get his first rifle at age 12. He would learn from other firearms enthusiasts and take trips to various factories including Marlin. This background in firearms gave Ruger a great advantage over competitors whose management often came from other industries, and lacked a knowledge of the American shooting public.

Bill Ruger Resume Rifle
William B. Ruger’s “Resume” Rifle – In 1942, William Ruger took this Savage 99 lever-action rifle modified it. His work on that rifle changed it from lever-action to semi-auto gas operation. With this prototype in hand, he went to Springfield Armory in search of a job as a firearms designer. This modified Savage 99 acted as Ruger’s resume. Springfield Armory hired him he began his career in firearms. In 1949, at the age of 33, Ruger formed Sturm, Ruger Company the rest is history

One of Ruger’s favorite firearms growing up was the Savage Model 99, and he would come up with the idea to convert one to semi automatic in the late 1930’s.

His prototype semi auto Savage would not be successful but the rotary magazine of the Model 99 bears a strong resemblance to the Ruger 10/22 rifle. Bill Ruger would go to work for Springfield Amory and then later to Auto Ordnance.

At Auto Ordnance, Ruger would work with firearms for the US military during World War Two. He worked on a machine gun design that competed against the M1919 Browning, and this would be tested at the Aberdeen Proving Ground.

The war would end before the issues with Ruger’s machine gun could be fixed. Bill Ruger would attempt to start his own company following the war but failed, much like several other famous firearms designers including Sam Colt.

Like Sam Colt, Bill Ruger would get a second chance in the form of a great investment. Alex Sturm would help Bill Ruger by giving him $50,000 to start up the company that we know today. Sturm was an interesting character and did fit the stereotype of your typical “Gun Guy” but he was quite artistic, had an interest in firearms and had a Yale education. He would use these artistic skills to draw the famous Ruger Red Eagle logo. Sadly Sturm would pass in 1951 due to hepatitis.

Bill Ruger would take the bolt of a Japanese Nambu pistol and use this design to build a .22 pistol that bore a resemblance to the famous German Luger. This was Ruger’s first successful design and would then be known as the Ruger Standard. The weapon would compete against Colt’s Woodsman and the High Standard line of pistols. The cost of the Ruger Standard was lower than the competition and as a result they outsold both of them.

In 1947 the chance of a lifetime would come true for Bill Ruger. Colt had stopped production of their famous Single Action Army following America’s entry into the Second World War, and would announce that they were not resuming production in 1947.

William B. Ruger Meeting with Mikail T. Kalashnikov
William B. Ruger Meeting with Mikail T. Kalashnikov

The post war market for a single action revolver would be great and Bill Ruger would be there to provide such a revolver.

The question was how to make such a revolver cheap so that the average shooter could afford it. Bill Ruger had heard of investment casting while working at Auto Ordnance, and would have a jewelry company make parts for his new revolver called the Single Six and chambered in .22 LR. This gun would be produced starting in 1953, and by 1955 the famous Ruger Blackhawk would be introduced in .357 Magnum. Ruger’s Blackhawk would later be chambered in other calibers such as the powerful .44 Magnum.

Both the Ruger Standard, and the Single Action revolvers would be major staples in the Ruger line along with the later 10/22 and Mini 14 rifle lines. Bill Ruger was able to incorporate features from famous firearms that appealed to the public, and make them affordable through new manufacturing processes.

Bill Ruger Legacy

Finally Bill Ruger was able to find out just what the public wanted in a firearm, something often lost in firearms companies whose management aren’t “Gun guys”. Today Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc is one of the largest firearms manufacturers in the United States and is very successful.

About Marc Cammack:

Marc Cammack has been collecting firearms since he was 14 years old.

His interests are primarily military surplus firearms of the late 19th into the 1950’s. He has studied these in depth, and currently volunteers at two local museums providing them with accurate information about their firearms.

He is a graduate of the University of Maine with a bachelor’s degree in history. He has studied modern European and American history since the age of 9, and has been shooting since the age of 11. He currently resides just outside of Bangor, Maine.

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I just wonder if Bill Ruger might had violated any patent protection in place with Savage Arms for using their rifle as the prototype for the conversion. I still remember when Ruger was pushing the magazine capacity thing. Why he would want to restrict magazine capacity I will never understand. I do know he caught hell in the firearms community for years because of that.


Sturm passed in 1951 due to hepatitis ? Passed to where ? I guess they mean he died in 1951 due to hepatitis.