Bill Ruger: America's Gunmaker
by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn & Boge Quinn

 

 

 

Throughout history, there have been many who contributed greatly to the development of firearms. From the very first successful explosion of gunpowder, through the refinement of the musket, rifle, and handgun, men have sought better ways to propel a piece of metal through the air by way of the firearm.

There are a few great gun designers and inventors who are legends in firearms history, such as Sam Colt, Hiram Maxim, Arthur Savage, and the great John Moses Browning. I also propose that history will find that William B. Ruger, Sr. will be noted  as the greatest of our time.

Detailing the beginning and rise to prominence of Sturm, Ruger and Company as the largest manufacturer of sporting arms in the world is beyond the scope of this article (Ed. Note: a capsule early history of Sturm, Ruger can be found at Ruger 50th Anniversary .22 - Boge Quinn). There are books written to cover this in great detail. This short essay shall concentrate more on the genius and insight of Bill Ruger as a man who, along with the company that he founded, has given the shooters of this world some of the greatest gun designs of our time.

The guns of Bill Ruger are not so much inventions as they are refinements and improvements of other designs, combined with improved manufacturing techniques, that result in a better product. The first firearm produced by Ruger, the Standard .22 Automatic, has become the worldís favorite .22 pistol. It is worthwhile to note that when Ruger introduced this pistol in 1949, there were several fine .22 autos already well-established on the market. Today, those competitive pistols are long out of production, but the little Ruger pistol has been sold in the millions, and is the most popular .22 auto pistol on the market.

The ability of Bill Ruger to read the firearms market as if through a crystal ball has been demonstrated over and over again, but there is no better example than that of his reintroducing the single action revolver to the shooting world in 1953. The established gun makers of this country had already placed the nails in the coffin of the single action revolver, but Ruger was one of the few who saw a market for the beloved sixgun, and introduced the Single Six revolver to anxious buyers.  He later followed the great success of the Single Six with the most extensive line of single action revolvers on the planet, and to this day, supply can hardly meet the demand. Were it not for the foresight and willingness of Ruger to follow his instinct with the resurrection of the single action, we most likely would have not seen the revival of the Colt Single Action Army, or any of its many copies available today.  Rugerís line of Blackhawk and Vaquero single action sixguns are some of the strongest and most durable guns of any kind on the market. They are built strong enough to outlast your grandchildren, and are, in my opinion, the best handgun value in United States. A shooter can buy a new, all American-made Blackhawk today for less than an inferior import copy of the Single Action Army.

The ability of Ruger to produce superior products at a lower price is again due to the remarkable foresight of Bill Ruger in pioneering the use of investment castings in the manufacturing of firearms. While his competitors were, and some still are, working with rough forgings and old machinery, Ruger was producing almost-finished parts from high quality investment castings. Ruger has proven the strength of castings throughout the years by using the process in the manufacture high-stress gun parts such as receivers and bolt heads.

Another fine example of Ruger going against the prevailing tide in gun design was the introduction of his first two center fire rifles. The first was the .44 Carbine, a fine little autoloader which stayed in production for over 25 years. The second was the single shot Number 1 rifle, introduced in 1967 and still going strong today. The No. 1 has become a classic, perhaps the best single shot rifle ever made, and is currently chambered for 25 different cartridges. Between the introduction of these two rifles, in 1964, Ruger gave us the very popular 10/22 auto loading rifle, with the ingenious little 10 shot rotary magazine. After almost 40 years, the little carbine is still the standard by which all new .22 auto loading rifles are compared.

In 1968 Ruger introduced  his Model 77 bolt action rifle, which was no great departure from the other good bolt gun designs of the day, except in the methods used in the guns production. What set the model 77 apart was the design of the stock. At a time when most rifle makers were turning out bolt guns with flashy stocks complete with cheek pieces and white line spacers, all covered with impressed checkering and a high gloss finish fit for a pimp on safari, Ruger went with a classic, straight-combed design with real hand-cut checkering, again setting the standard for the industry to follow. The Model 77 Mark II is still one of the best rifles on the market, having been chambered for at least 33 different cartridges, and is both beautiful and reliable. It is a gun on which you can depend, and a testament to the genius of the designer.

I remember many years ago, when working construction at a prison in Eddyville, Kentucky, I saw the wall guards carrying a handy little .223 auto loading rifle that turned out to be the Ruger Mini-14. This was my first glimpse of that fine little carbine, and I knew that I had to have one. When I finally got my hands on one of my own, I realized what a great, handy little gun it was. I shot many thousands of rounds through that Mini, with nary a bobble of any kind. It would feed, fire, and eject reliably, every time. The action of the Mini is an improved Garand design, and is reliable in the extreme.

I will not attempt to cover every gun design that has risen from the fertile mind of Bill Ruger, as it would be an undertaking of which I am not qualified, but would like to mention one more in particular. Before delving into the details of that last firearm, I would be neglectful to fail to mention that time and time again, Bill Ruger has ignored those in the industry that have said that it couldnít be done. From his first double action revolvers, to the best black powder sixgun ever made; the Old Army, Bill Ruger has blazed his own trails through the gun industry, giving the shooting public the firearms that they wanted at a price that they could afford, and leaving the competition to try and catch up.

The last gun design that I would like to mention is that of Rugerís first shotgun; the Red Label. Bill Ruger introduced the first Red Label in 1977, again bucking tradition by bringing out the 20 gauge first, when everybody knew that you had to start with the most popular twelve gauge to succeed. Instead of building a 12 gauge pump or automatic, Ruger started with a 20 gauge over-and-under, with a unique design that is both elegant and bull-strong. Ruger now builds the Red Label on three different size frames, each to specifically accommodate either the twelve, twenty, or twenty-eight gauge. The Red Label is the easiest-opening shotgun on the market, right out of the box. Again, this is due to the advanced thinking and design of the shotgun. At a time when other American shotgun makers canít seem to find an over-and-under design that will sell, the Red Label has become a classic that is still going strong. I have one that was built in 1983, and is still as good as when brand new. Most American gun manufacturers have conceded the double barrel shotgun market to the Europeans and Japanese, but not Ruger. The fine folks at Ruger are again filling a long-empty void in the American shotgun market by bringing out the long anticipated Gold Label side-by-side double shotgun.  As of this writing, I have yet to fire one, but I have fondled one extensively, and am very impressed and anxiously awaiting a production gun for a full review.

Searching through the latest Ruger catalog, I count  305 different variations of Ruger pistols, revolvers, rifles, and shotguns. This is a great testament to the founder of that 53 year old company.

Even with his retirement as the active head of the corporation, there is no doubt that the team at Sturm, Ruger and Company are intent upon following the great leadership of William B. Ruger, the foremost firearms designer of our time.

See Ruger's entire product line here.

Jeff Quinn

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Click pictures for a larger version.

 

William B. Ruger, without a doubt the greatest firearms designer since John M. Browning.

 

 

Model 77/22 .22 Rimfire bolt-action rifle.

 

 

"Old Model" Super Blackhawk .44 Magnum, fitted with Herrett's "Shooting Star" grips.

 

 

Cousin Butch shooting the No. 1 50th Anniversary single-shot rifle in .45-70 Government.

 

 

The new .32 Magnum "Bird's Head" Single-Six.

 

 

Ruger pioneered the use of rugged and reliable coil-spring actions in revolvers, making broken mainsprings a thing of the past.

 

 

.22 Standard Automatic, serial # 0132.

 

 

Model 77 Mark II bolt-action rifle in .338 Winchester Magnum.

 

 

Red Label over/under 12 gauge shotgun.

 

 

Bearcat small-frame .22 Rimfire singe-action revolver.

 

 

"Old Model" .44 Magnum Blackhawk "flattop".

 

 

Model 10/22 .22 Rimfire semi-automatic rifle.

 

 

"Old Model" Blackhawk (top) and "New Model" Stainless Bisley (bottom), both in .45 Colt.

 

 

Super Redhawk in .480 Ruger.

 

 

Jeff shoots the .44 Magnum Super Blackhawk Hunter.