Like Daniel B. Wesson and Horace Smith roughly 90 years before, Alexander McCormick Sturm and William B. Ruger collaborated to manufacture an innovative pistol. Ruger designed it, while Sturm provided the capital to finance it. As a result, their names have been indelibly linked ever since.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1916, William Batterman Ruger’s great grandfather fought against Napoleon as a Prussian soldier at Waterloo. His family emigrated to America in the 1840s. Ruger showed an interest in firearms and machine tools at a young age. As a teenager, he poured over engineering textbooks to appease his fascination for everything mechanical.
While attending college at the University of North Carolina, he convinced his superiors to allow him to set up a machine shop in an empty room to experiment with designing guns. One of the first jobs he landed was with Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Co. However, Ruger left Colt due to the low pay and inability to design his own guns and found a job at the Springfield Armory.
In 1940, Ruger designed a light machine gun and presented it to various gun manufacturers. The Auto-Ordnance Corporation hired the brilliant 24-year-old inventor. Ruger left Auto-Ordnance after four years and formed the Ruger Corporation in a machine shop in Southport, Connecticut. But the attempt to establish his own company was short-lived, and he had to close its doors. Still, Ruger refused to give up on his dream.
‘Handsome, Functional and Practical’
After his first attempt to establish a company failed, Ruger designed a .22 caliber pistol. He was confident that it would be a successful seller. However, he needed a financer willing to take a chance on it and loan him the funds to produce it. Alexander McCormick Sturm was just the man he needed.
The wealthy Yale University graduate shared Ruger’s refined sense of humor, and the two immediately hit it off. But Ruger and Sturm couldn’t have come from more different backgrounds. Sturm was an artist, writer, filmmaker and collector of weapons, heraldry and other antiques. At the age of 16, Sturm wrote and illustrated his first book, The Problem Fox. In 1944, he married President Theodore Roosevelt’s granddaughter, Paulina Longworth. Besides being an avid gun collector, Sturm had no experience manufacturing firearms. But he did have the capital to invest in other individuals’ designs. In 1949, Sturm invested $50,000 and partnered with Ruger. The two formed Sturm, Ruger and Co. and set up shop in a red barn in Southport, Connecticut, to manufacture Ruger’s handgun.
The .22 semi-automatic pistol had a similar profile to the Colt Woodsman, but Sturm, Ruger & Co. offered it at a reasonable selling price without sacrificing its quality. Major General Julian S. Hatcher of the NRA reviewed the new pistol for American Rifleman and gave it a glowing assessment. He said it handled splendidly and applauded its accuracy and price. “We like this new gun a lot and at the very moderate price of $37.50,” Hatcher declared. “[I]t represents real value.” By 1981, the company manufactured more than 1,250,000 of these pistols. The most updated version of the handgun, the Mark IV, is still sold by the company 70 years after Ruger and Sturm first introduced it.
‘A Symbol of Responsibility’
To compete with other larger firearms companies, Ruger had a unique philosophy when it came to the company’s operations and marketing. “Our company would be strong on expertise, service, uniqueness, simplicity, and strength of design,” Ruger said while addressing college students after he found success. “[O]ur marketing based on gut instinct and keeping in touch with the consumer and the distributor/jobber/dealer.”
Safety and responsible gun ownership have remained a cornerstone of the company’s philosophy since the beginning. For instance, a vintage Sturm, Ruger & Co. advertisement read, “With the right and enjoyment of owning a firearm goes the constant responsibility of handling it safely and using it wisely.” Ruger also obtained permission to reprint and use a poem that had made a tremendous impression on him called “A Father’s Advice.”
As for the company’s emblem, Ruger leaned on Sturm’s interest in heraldry to design a logo. “What we’ve got to have is a trademark,” Ruger told Sturm, “something that can be rolled onto the firearms, something we can have on our letterhead and in our advertising, something that ties together all our products so the identity is there.” Sturm responded by designing a red eagle emblem based on German and Japanese heraldry. In 1951, Sturm unexpectedly died of a liver ailment at the age of 28. Bill Ruger changed the color of the company’s logo from red to black to mourn the loss of his friend and co-founder.
Sturm, Ruger & Co. Are Rugged, Reliable Firearms
Sturm, Ruger & Co. introduced its first revolver, the Single-Six .22, in 1953. The revolver looked similar to the Colt Single-Action but was superior in every regard. More than 70,000 were produced until replaced by the New Model in 1973. The Blackhawk in .357 and .44 followed two years later, named after Ruger’s favorite Stutz luxury car. More than 300,000 Blackhawks were produced until it was also replaced by the New Model.
The company would go on to produce carbines, rifles, shotguns, and even an automobile and yacht. Today, Sturm, Ruger & Co. offers almost 800 variations of more than 40 product lines. Its innovative and quality firearms are still a favorite among Americans.
Wilson, Robert L. Ruger and His Guns: A History of the Man, the Company and Their Firearms (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.
“Alexander Sturm, 28, Author, Painter and Manufacturer, Dies,” Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), November 14, 1951.
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