Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Featured Gun: The Ruger 22 Pistol

Today is Ruger day 2019 (10/22). It also marks the 70th anniversary of Ruger shipping the first production pistols to customers in 1949. So our Featured Gun today is the Ruger .22 Pistol.

I am aware that American Rifleman also features the story of this gun in their October 2019 issue. I assure you this is a coincidence as I started writing this post two years ago and have been adding to it along the way.

It is the pistol that launched a company. It is the story of the American Dream. An idea, a product, some investment money and lots of hard work. The result is the largest and most successful firearms manufacturer in America, if not the World.

The story of this pistol begins with the man who created it: William Batterman Ruger. 

Bill Ruger was born on June 21, 1916 in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn, New York.
As a young boy he would shoot .22 rifles in his friend's basement. He read every book he could get on firearms and voraciously studied their design and on his 12th birthday was gifted a Remington model 12 rifle from his Father. As a teen ager he began designing a machine gun and was one of the top shooters on the Alexander Hamilton High School rifle team.
At the age of 20 he enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 
In 1938 (at the age of 22) Ruger married and dropped out of school. After a honeymoon in Europe he began working at a gun shop in Hartford, CT. 
Shortly after his son was born a letter from Springfield Armory with a job offer. He worked at the Springfield Armory for a short time, then quit to finish his machine gun design on his own.

While shopping for a buyer he was offered a lucrative position at Smith & Wesson (also in Springfield, MA). He declined S&W's offer and eventually accepted an offer from Auto-Ordnance, the year was 1940, war was raging in Europe and Auto-Ordnance had plenty of orders for Tommy Guns. 
During the War Ruger had also been working on his design for a .22 auto pistol. The letter below, dated November 21, 1945 is to some patent attorneys in Boston describing his pistol which he hoped to patent.

photo courtesy of D. Findley of the Ruger Owners and Collectors Society

In 1946 Ruger started the Ruger Corporation with partner McMillan Clements to make machined parts and carpenter tools, one of which is the hand drill pictured below. You will notice the similarity in the design of the hand drill and the Ruger Standard Pistol. Although they were making tools, Ruger had hoped that this venture could launch his gun company. 
It was not uncommon during the late 19th century for tool and die makers to become arms makers or vice versa.

A Ruger Corporation Hand Drill

In the fall of 1946 the new company set up shop in a building on Station Street, affectionately called the "red barn", next to the Southport Connecticut Train Station

This purchase order from the Ruger Corporation is for the stampings used for the hand drill above. The date of the PO is Sept. 25, 1946, a few years before Sturm, Ruger & Co. was founded, yet "Ruger Automatic Pistols" is listed in the company letterhead. Sometime in 1947 many of the frame plates were returned or canceled.
For the record, the grip frame of the drill was a bit smaller than that of the production version of the Ruger pistol.

photo courtesy of D Findley of the Ruger Owners and Collectors Society

By 1948 it was clear the Ruger Corporation was going bankrupt. By this point Bill Ruger was an accomplished gun designer, machinist and had learned some valuable lessons in how NOT to run a company.
That same year Bill Ruger meets wealthy socialite Alexander McCormick Sturm. Sturm agrees to partner up on a new venture to make .22 pistols based on Ruger's prototype, no more parts or tools, Ruger was ready to go head first into the gun business.

Bill Ruger (left) and Alex Sturm (right) at the Ruger Red Barn Factory in 1950


It should probably be mentioned that Ruger was of German decent and did have an affinity for the Luger P08 pistol as well as the Japanese Nambu. He felt those pistols had the perfect grip angle and thus designed his pistol to have the same grip angle, look and feel.
The fact the Ruger's name was an alliteration to the Luger name was purely coincidental.
As a side note Alexander Sturm was also of German descent and his last name means "storm" in German (as in Sturmgewehr).  

In reality the gun featured design elements from the Luger, the Japanese Nambu pistols as well as it's closest competitors the Colt Woodsman and the Hi-Standard.
 P08 Luger

Japanese Nambu pistols (type A = larger, type B = smaller) 

It was the smaller, type B or "baby Nambu", that Ruger built first, using some GI bring backs as inspiration. Here is one of the only known pictures of the Ruger Nambu. He chambered it .22 LR, the gun was loaned to a friend who test fired the gun and reported back that he had zero malfunctions.

picture from Ruger and His Guns

He then began optimizing the design to make it easier and cheaper to manufacture. 

The prototype pistol below, hand built by Bill Ruger, that was used as the basis of design, you can clearly see the grip frame is based on his hand drill design (or vice versa??).

picture from The Standard Catalog of Ruger Firearms

Alex Sturm provided $50,000 seed money to start Sturm, Ruger & Co. (about $500,000 in today's money). The money is rumored to have been from Sturm's wife, Paulina, who happened to be the grand daughter of former President Theodore Roosevelt. 

Alexander "Sandy" Sturm was a Yale graduate, an accomplished artist and author. He was a bit eccentric and being a gun collector was excited about the possibility of being partner in a gun company.

Bill Ruger suggested that Alex use his talents to create a company logo, font and letterhead. Using his knowledge of heraldry, he created the eagle logo and stylized "SR". 
The font was borrowed from (or at least inspired by) Giambattista Bodoni, an 18th century Italian typographer (printer). 

The Sturm, Ruger letterhead that Sturm designed was said to be almost "too professional" as it resembled an official communique from a government agency.

When queried many people in the industry scoffed at the idea of starting a gun manufacturing business with such a small amount of money. 
By way of comparison, The Sharp's Rifle Company started with $100,000 in 1851 (nearly 100 years earlier). That would equal $293,000 in 1949, nearly six times the amount of money Ruger had to work with.
Ruger however, was no spendthrift, he was crafty. They bought used equipment (quite easy to source in post war New England) and reworked them to suit their needs.

Other "experts" told Bill Ruger and others that the market for .22 semi-auto pistol was already saturated with three big gun makers (High Standard, Colt and Smith & Wesson). 

Undaunted, in January of 1949 they purchased the assets of the failed Ruger Corporation and went to work in the same red barn, using some of the same tooling that the hand drills were created on.

The "red barn" as it looks today 

The prototype magazine was a modified copy of the Hi-Standard pistol (Hi-Standard magazine on the left, Ruger on the right)
picture from American Rifleman

This picture shows the a 1949 pre-production prototype pistol and a second patent drawing. Under the pistol is a piece of sheet steel from which one side of the grip frame is formed.

picture from Ruger and his Guns

1950 patent drawing

The first advertisement for the Ruger Pistol, which appeared in American Rifleman magazine in the August 1949 issue.

In early October 1949 the money provided by Alex Sturm had run out, fortunately, they had parts to assemble 2500 pistols and money orders for 100 of them. 
That same day Alex Sturm took the 100 money orders to the bank and Sturm, Ruger and Company began shipping pistols to the buyers. By the end of that first year the initial loan was paid off and some 1,138 pistols had been shipped to buyers who paid the advertised price of $37.50 (approximately $360 today). Ruger did not want to cash any money orders until the guns were shipped. Sturm, Ruger & Co. has been "in the black" ever since. 
By February of 1950, Ruger had back orders for 5000 more pistols and by that summer the backlog had grown to 9000 pistols. Ruger and his team stepped up to the challenge and were soon producing 900 guns per month.
The first pistol to be shipped to a customer was serial #0012, pictured below.

picture from Ruger and His Guns

The grips were made of a hard rubber and had aluminum escutcheons, later these were replaced with a lighter weight plastic with cast in recesses for the screws.
The triggers were made of chrome plated cast aluminum.

For the first few years the bolts were left in the white, unblued.
 photo courtesy of Gun Blast
The early guns were placed in a red cardboard box that was then put inside a "salt cod box". These boxes were originally intended to ship fish all over the country.
It was an affordable and effective way to insure the pistols made it to their destination in one piece. Later the guns were sold in bulk to distributors, who then shipped them to retailers.

Note the address on the box below, they were originally shipped direct to the buyers, this was before the days of Federal Firearms Dealers (and before Zip Codes). The one below was from serial number 0196, shipped in the October of 1949. 
an interesting bit of history about the recipient below: L.H. Crampton was the manager of the Tungston Plantation, where Tung trees were grown....the oil extracted from those Tung tree nuts is used to make Tung oil which is used to finish gun stocks.

In the fall of 1951 Bill Ruger went hunting in Canada, when he returned he found his partner had been hospitalized with viral hepatitis. Alexander Sturm died ten days later on November 16th, 1951. He was just 28 years old.
After his death Bill Ruger ordered the red eagle logo changed to black to signify the mourning of his business partner. The eagle remained black for regular production units until 1999 when the 50th Anniversary model was released.

Bill Ruger test firing an early Mark I pistol
photo courtesy of American Rifleman

Along the way some Ruger pistols (250 of them, I think) were assembled in Mexico by a company called Armamex (owned by Col Rex Applegate). If you find one, do not dismiss it as a copy, they are valuable collectors items today.

photo courtesy of Flattop 44 of the Ruger Owners and Collectors Society

By the end of the 1950's the Ruger had outgrown the "Red Barn" and they built a new plant at No.1 Lacey Place in Southport, just down the road from the Red Barn

In 1979 Ruger produced it's one millionth .22 pistol. To mark the occasion, the gun was ornately engraved and was given red eagle logos, the first Ruger to wear them since Alexander Sturm's passing in 1951

In 1981 and 1982 a special 5000 unit run of a "Signature series" Mark II was produced. The guns were made just like the originals, only in stainless steel and they featured a likeness of Bill Ruger's signature on the barrel as well as a roll mark "1 of 5000".
Also present was the red eagle logo. The guns came in a card board box and wood "salt cod" box just like they did in 1949.

In 1989 for the 40th anniversary of the company a special run of 950 custom pistols were made. The receivers had gold scroll work (not engraved), some gold plated accents and carried the red & black eagle logo (one on each side) on simulated ivory grip panels

In 1999 Ruger celebrated their 50th Anniversary. A special anniversary model was produced which heralded the return of the red eagle logo to regular production. 
The guns were built as close to the originals as feasible, with some 50th Anniversary markings of course

In 2016 to mark the 100th anniversary of Bill Ruger's birth, the company offered a commemorative Mark IV pistol and CRKT knife set. One one side of the barrel it was marked "1916 - 100 years - 2016" the other side featured a likeness of Bill Ruger's signature.


Caliber: .22 Long Rifle
Action: Semi-Automatic, blow back
Magazine: Stick, in grip frame
Capacity: 9 (Standard, later pistol magazines held 10 rounds)
Length: 9" (10 1/4" with 6" barrel)
Barrel Length: 4 3/4" (6" available after 1954)
Weight: 38 oz. (2 1/4 lbs)
Stock Material: black checkered rubber with medallion on left side only.
Receiver material: tubular carbon steel receiver, stamped sheet steel grip frame

Here is an exploded diagram for the Ruger Standard (photo courtesy of Sturm, Ruger & Co.)


 And a Mark II in real life (photo courtesy of Reddit)


The tapered barrels (aka pencil barrels) in 4 3/4" and 6" did not originally come from the factory with adjustable sights as the original front sight was too short. One of  the options that came with the Mark I was a taller front sight and adjustable rear. Retro fitting a Standard or earlier Mark I, that has a pencil barrel, just requires the taller front sight insert or you could purchase a low profile rear sight from LDA and keep the original front sight.

The Mark I, the first revision, was introduced in 1950, the standard and Mark I were made along side each other until both pistols were retired in 1981. The major changes included different barrel lengths (including a bull barrel option), adjustable rear sight and adjustable trigger.

in 1971 the forming dies for the frame plates reached their limit and had to be replaced. The original frame was designated A54, The new frame was designated A100, thus the change become known as the A100 modification.

The major change was moving the slot for the magazine follower from the right side of the frame to the left side. This allowed Ruger to add a last shot hold open feature that was was part of the changes in the Mark II. The LSHO was facilitated by the follower button pushing on a lever that held the slide back. The lever sat just above the grip panel, acting as the slide release.

The grip panels on the pre-A100 models will not interchange with the later ones, the picture below shows why:

photo courtesy of Worthwien guns

The Mark II was introduced in 1982, replacing both the Standard and the Mark I. Changes included tapered cuts in the rear of the receiver, a last shot hold open and slide release. Additional barrel lengths were offered including a 10 inch model. The Mark II Target models had polygonal rifling. the Mark II was retired in 2004.

Ten years into the Mark II production Ruger introduced a new variant called the 22/45. The frame was polymer and mimicked the grip of the Colt 1911. The name could stem from the 1911's most popular chambering, .45 ACP, or from the 45 degree grip angle (which is steeper than the original 35 degree angle of the Mark II).

The Mark III was introduced in 2004 and featured some updates to the design including a loaded chamber indicator, a magazine disconnect, an internal safety and the magazine release was moved from the heal of the grip to the more modern location next to the trigger guard. After just 12 years the Mark III was retired.

2016 marked the introduction of the Mark IV and brought the biggest changes the Mark series pistols had seen to date. The Mark IV now sports a cast aluminum or cast stainless frame in which the barrel and receiver are easily removed by pushing one button, allowing the barrelled action to tilt up. The safety button became a ambidextrous and the trigger group and bolt stop were revised.

Here is a graphic to help (courtesy of Rimfire Central) showing the changes over the years

This post was again inspired by gun(s) I own or have come into contact with.

I bought this one in a group of guns from a guy at work. It was a Mark I with a 4" bull barrel. I gave it to my Father for his birthday one year.

I owned this blued Mark II for a short time, it had a 6" bull barrel and adjustable rear sight. I eventually sold the gun to buy a stainless version.

I picked up this stainless Mark II "Government Target" model with a 6" slab side bull barrel and cocobolo target stocks to replace the one I sold. above. This one is a keeper, a real tack driver.

My Father sold the Mark I that I had given him, something he regretted, so I found him another one that needed refinishing (this time a Mark II). I reblued the gun and installed some 50th Anniversary grip panels. See the details here

before and after pics:

I purchased the Ruger Standard below from a dealer at the gun show, it was from a police auction, one of the many guns that, for one reason or another, could not be returned to their owner.
It was made in early part of 1966, it has the 6" tapered barrel, fixed sights and original plastic checkered grip panels with the black eagle on the left side only. I found the necessary parts and reblued the gun.

Here are some before and after pictures. Look for blog posts on this one coming soon.

After starting the project on the 6" model above, I found a good deal on this Ruger Standard, the serial number dates it to late 1953 manufacture. This gun was built in the old Red Barn...… pretty cool

Worthwein Guns
American Rifleman
Ruger Owners and Collectors Society
American Rifleman

Wilson, R.L., (2007), Ruger & His Guns, New York, NY: Chartwell Books, Inc.  

Lee, Jerry, (2014), The Standard Catalog of Ruger Firearms, Iola, WI: Gun Digest Books. 


  1. Found you through gunandgame.com, love your work..(K75RT)

  2. I've been reading and learning from you for several years now. I just want to say, great job and keep up the awesome posts.