William Batterman Ruger (June 21, 1916 – July 6, 2002) partnered with Alexander McCormick Sturm in 1949 to establish Sturm, Ruger & Company. Their first product was the Ruger Standard, the most popular .22 caliber target pistol ever made in the US. After Sturm’s death in 1951, and under Ruger’s continued leadership, the Company produced more types of sporting firearms than any other firearms manufacturer in the world.
Ruger was born on 21 June 1916 in Brooklyn, New York. He first developed his passion for guns when he received his own rifle from his father at the age of 12. As a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he converted an empty room into a machine shop and, in 1938, came up with initial designs for what eventually became a light machine gun for the United States Army – executing the drawings on his in-laws’ dining room table. U.S. Army Ordnance officials liked the gun so much that they launched Ruger into becoming a full-time gun designer. He helped invent and patent dozens of models of sporting firearms during the last 53 years, which were instant and enduring successes. From the start, his company stressed mechanical innovation and safety.
Ruger shared and exchanged technical information on firearms and ammunition with many like-minded people worldwide, including English rifle maker and cartridge designer David Lloyd.
When not involved with firearms operations, Ruger was deeply involved in a variety of activities including antique firearms, 19th century Western American art, and his nationally noted antique car collection of more than 30 vehicles, including Bentleys, Rolls-Royces, Bugattis, Stutzes, and a 1913 Mercer Raceabout, among others.
Ruger also supported and commissioned the design and construction of a classically styled sports touring car in 1970 that he called the Ruger Special. It was based on the design of the 1929 Bentley 4½ Litre. He also designed and commissioned a 92-foot (28 m) yacht, the Titania.
Ruger continued to lead his company on to world prominence in gun manufacturing and it became the largest manufacturer of firearms in the United States. Not only an expert inventor, designer, and engineer, Ruger was also a skilled manufacturer and marketer of firearms.
A legend in American industry, Ruger had a hand in the original design and time-honored styling of every firearm his company produced. He continued to work on new creations up until his death. With his legendary leadership style, he led his business from “it can’t be done” remarks to a corporation listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: RGR). His firm has produced more than 20,000,000 firearms for hunting, target shooting, collecting, self-defense, law enforcement and for US and foreign governments.
Today, with plants in Newport, New Hampshire, and Prescott, Arizona, and corporate headquarters in Southport, Fairfield, Connecticut, Sturm, Ruger manufactures high-quality rifles, shotguns, pistols, and revolvers for a variety of sporting and law enforcement purposes. Its precision investment castings are made for a variety of industries, including aerospace, automotive, general manufacturing and the golf market.
Ruger was active in a wide variety of charities especially in communities where his factories were located, as well as the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming, where he served as a member of the Board of Trustees for over 15 years.
Health problems finally forced him to retire in October 2000.
On Saturday, 6 July 2002, at age 86, after a period of failing health, Ruger died peacefully at home in Prescott, Arizona.
Ruger is survived by his son William B. Ruger, Jr., who served as the Chairman of the Company until his retirement in 2006; daughter Carolyn R. Vogel; six grandchildren; and ten great-grandchildren.
R.L. Wilson, firearms historian and Ruger’s biographer wrote of Bill Ruger, "Ruger was a true firearms genius who mastered the disciplines of inventing, designing, engineering, manufacturing and marketing better than anyone since Samuel Colt." "No one in the 20th century so clearly dominated the field, or was so skilled at articulating the unique appeal of quality firearms for legitimate uses."
After a spate of high profile shootings and incidents with the Ruger Mini-14 rifle, along with a number of unsavory associations the Mini-14 had gained with militias and extremist movements during the late 1970s and early 1980s, Ruger expressed a highly unpopular position (amongst a segment of firearms owners, users and enthusiasts) by stating his personal views on the "sporting" nature of certain firearms.
In a letter to members of the House and Senate on 30 March 1989, Ruger stated in what has come to be known as "The Ruger Letter":
"The best way to address the firepower concern is therefore not to try to outlaw or license many millions of older and perfectly legitimate firearms (which would be a licensing effort of staggering proportions) but to prohibit the possession of high capacity magazines. By a simple, complete, and unequivocal ban on large capacity magazines, all the difficulty of defining "assault rifles" and "semi-automatic rifles" is eliminated. The large capacity magazine itself, separate or attached to the firearm, becomes the prohibited item. A single amendment to Federal firearms laws could prohibit their possession or sale and would effectively implement these objectives."
In addition to the furor from the National Rifle Association caused by "The Ruger Letter", Ruger made additional comments during an interview with NBC's Tom Brokaw that angered certain 2nd Amendment proponents even further, saying that "no honest man needs more than 10 rounds in any gun…" and "I never meant for simple civilians to have my 20 and 30 round magazines…"
This position, coming from an important firearms manufacturer such as Ruger, caused outrage from the NRA and a few similar shooting sports organizations and led to a boycott of Ruger products that is still practiced by some firearms purchasers to this day, who choose to buy products from manufacturers who they feel hold a greater respect for their customers (however, see further below).
"The Ruger Letter" is widely accepted as being the genesis for those parts of legislation that were drafted 5 years later in the now defunct Assault Weapons Ban which prohibited the manufacture of any magazines holding over 10 rounds of ammunition for civilian sale, except to the motion-picture industry, which Ruger continued to pursue. Critics consider it ironic that the company would supply shows such as The A-Team with the AC-556, a selective fire variant of the Mini-14, then complain about the resulting public image of the semi-automatic Mini-14.
Some speculated that Ruger's stated views on magazine capacity were more a matter of smart business than one of individual philosophy. Given the legislative climate regarding firearms during that time (the late 1980s/early 1990s), an outright ban that may have impacted one of Ruger's most popular and profitable models (the Mini-14) was seen by some as a real possibility.
By taking preemptive measures to shift the focus from the "guns" to the "magazine capacity", this would allow Sturm, Ruger to continue production of their Mini-14 line of firearms for civilian sale. Any legislation regarding magazines would have had zero impact on their bottom line, given that Ruger maintained a company policy refusing to sell Mini-14 magazines over 5 rounds (which would not have been affected), even prior to the 1994 legislation.
The Mini-14 has continued in production for civilian sale without interruption tot this day, and total sales for Sturm Ruger Co. saw continued growth throughout the 1990s.
However, some observers believe what they view as the supposed tactics of the "Ruger Letter" as a complete failure. Not only was the Mini-14 included in the various lists of banned guns, but the customer base of "simple civilians" simply found other vendors, while the government and law enforcement markets largely continued to pass by Ruger products in favor of arms from Colt, Springfield Armory, Heckler and Koch, FN and others.
Since the death of Bill Ruger and the 2006 retirement of his son, Bill Ruger, Jr., the company has offered and advertised its 20-round and (more recently, as of April 2009) its 30-round Mini-14 magazines for sale to the general public on its website. In light of the (then) upcoming US Presidential Election of 2008, Sturm, Ruger & Co. even offered "Inaugural Special" pricing for their 20-round Mini-14 magazines through 31 January 2009. With acts such as these, the boycott appears to have been dying down. Additionally, Ruger announced its entry into the AR-15 market on 15 May 2009 by announcing the SR-556. This is a gas-piston AR and comes with 3 30-round magazines.