Sturm, Ruger & Company, Inc. History

Address:
Lacey Place
Southport, Connecticut 06490
U.S.A.

Telephone: (203) 259-7843
Fax: (203) 254-2195

Website:
Public Company
Incorporated: 1949
Employees: 1,010
Sales: $223.3 million (1996)
Stock Exchanges: New York
SICs: 3484 Small Arms; 3324 Steel Investment Foundries

Company Perspectives:

"'Arms Makers for Responsible Citizens.' More than just a motto, this simple statement has defined Sturm, Ruger since its founding in 1949. Variations of the phrase appear in some of our earliest product advertisements, right up to the present day. We are immensely proud of the fact that we have emerged as the leading American firearms manufacturer based upon the exemplary reputation our products enjoy with the honorable citizens of a great nation--one which cherishes the positive enjoyment of firearms in a free society."

Company History:

Sturm, Ruger & Company, Inc. is the leading independent producer of firearms in the United States. Sturm, Ruger designs, manufactures, and markets a full line of pistols, revolvers, rifles, and shotguns, primarily for sporting purposes, but also for law enforcement and military agencies. Products include the company's flagship .22 caliber target pistols, single-action revolvers, sporting carbines and target rifles, single-shot and bolt-action hunting rifles, lever action rifles, double-action revolvers, 9-millimeter and .40 and .45 caliber pistols, and over-and-under shotguns, as well as automatic rifles for the police and military markets. Sturm, Ruger, through its Pine Tree Casting, Uni-Cast, and Ruger Investment Casting divisions, is also engaged in ferrous, aluminum, and titanium precision investment casting for customers in the aerospace, sporting goods, and other industries, including production of the "Big Bertha" titanium golf club heads for the Callaway Golf Company. Sturm, Ruger is headquartered in Southport, Connecticut, site of the company's original manufacturing plant. The company operates four manufacturing and investment casting facilities in New Hampshire and Arizona. Founder William B. Ruger serves as chairman and chief executive officer. Ruger's son, William B. Ruger, Jr., is vice-chairman and senior executive officer. Sales for 1996 were $223.3 million, for a net income of $34.4 million.

A Firearms Fan in the 1930s

Bill Ruger's interest in firearms began while he was still a boy in Brooklyn, New York, and Ruger was already designing guns, as well as frequenting machine shops to learn about machining and manufacturing techniques, by the time he graduated from high school. In 1939, after spending two years studying liberal arts at the University of North Carolina, Ruger dropped out of college to pursue a career in firearms manufacturing. Ruger moved to New England, the seat of the country's firearms industry and headquarters of the some of the most famous names in firearms, including Colt, Smith & Weston, Winchester, Remington, and Savage. Ruger's search for work proved fruitless; nonetheless, he remained in Hartford, Connecticut, hoping for a job with Colt and, meanwhile, working on a design for a machine gun.

By late 1939, Ruger still had not found work, and he decided to move back to North Carolina, his wife's native state. Along the way, he stopped in Washington, D.C., and showed his machine gun design to Army Ordnance, which liked the design. Arriving in North Carolina, Ruger received an offer for work as a gun designer from the U.S. government's Springfield Armory in Massachusetts, the major supplier of small arms for the military services since the beginning of the century. Ruger worked in Springfield for several months; but his paycheck, $65 every two weeks, was not enough to support his wife and child, and Ruger brought his family back to North Carolina.

By then the country was preparing to enter the Second World War, and the military was seeking to replace its aging Browning machine guns. Ruger set to work designing a new machine gun to meet the government's specifications. He had a machine shop build a prototype of his machine gun, and he brought the prototype back to New England to shop it around the firearms manufacturers. He brought the prototype first to Remington, which turned it down. Smith & Weston and Winchester also rejected Ruger's design. But in late 1940, Ruger found work with Auto Ordnance Corporation of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Auto Ordnance had been founded in 1921 by General John Thompson, of "Tommy" submachine gun fame. Ruger spent the next three years perfecting his light machine gun design. His experience at Auto Ordnance also introduced him to a variety of manufacturing and machining techniques. Ruger's light machine gun was ready for prototype production and testing by 1944; however, with the war coming to an end, the government was no longer interested in new machine guns, and Ruger's machine gun never went into full production.

First Success in the 1950s

After the war, Ruger set out to build firearms on his own. In 1946, he formed the Ruger Corporation, a small shop in Southport, Connecticut, with the intention of designing and building sporting guns. To keep that end of the business afloat, Ruger took on subcontracts supplying parts to Auto Ordnance, which by then had branched out into manufacturing record players. Ruger's company thrived for the next two years. Then Ruger attempted to enter a new business, designing and producing high-end carpenter's tools. These proved too expensive to make, however, and by 1948, the 32-year-old Ruger was forced to close his business.

Down but not out, Ruger was determined to return to his original interest in firearms. He set to work perfecting one of his old designs, for a .22 caliber semiautomatic target pistol. With no cash of his own, Ruger turned to an acquaintance, Alexander Sturm, for financing. Sturm, then 26, came from a wealthy family, was a graduate of Yale Art School, a writer and artist, and a "student of heraldry," with an interest in firearms. Sturm and Ruger agreed to form Sturm, Ruger & Company in 1949 with $50,000 from Sturm's family. Ruger was in charge of designing and manufacturing; Sturm would provide the company's earliest advertising, including the company's trademark. The company started with six employees in Southport, Connecticut.

Sturm, Ruger brought out its first product after a year. Ruger combined his manufacturing and machining knowledge with his own intuitive sense of firearms design to produce Sturm, Ruger's low-cost, stamped-frame .22 caliber target pistol, which recalled the famous Colt pistols. Ruger's pistol sold at $37.50, compared with the Colt's $50 price, without sacrificing quality. Praised for being well-balanced and reliable, the .22 Ruger Standard also exhibited an aesthetic appeal that would become a Sturm, Ruger hallmark. An ad and an enthusiastic review in American Rifleman generated the company's first orders and, within a year, Sturm, Ruger had repaid the Sturm family's $50,000 investment; this was the last money the company ever borrowed. The .22 Standard became one of the most popular handguns in the country and would remain a company mainstay for more than 50 years.

Sturm died in 1951 at the age of 29, of hepatitis. Ruger took over control of the company's management, while Sturm's estate retained its interest in the company. Sturm, Ruger turned to expanding its line of firearms. Unable to compete against the complete lines of the larger gun manufacturers, Sturm, Ruger instead concentrated on bringing handguns to the market, targeting the gun enthusiast, for whom firearms held an aesthetic appeal beyond their use for sport and hunting purposes. The company's next product was patterned after the famous Colt .45 Peacemaker, which had stopped production in 1940, but was produced as a .22 caliber revolver. The Ruger Single-Six revolver proved as successful as the company's .22 caliber pistol, helped by the booming popularity of the Western in the cinema and on television. By the mid-1950s, Sturm, Ruger's product line had expanded to include its centerfire single-action Blackhawk revolvers, which were available in a range of calibers, and the smaller Bearcat single-action handguns.

Ruger's long experience in manufacturing and machining techniques helped build the company's reputation and profits. From the start, Ruger had intended to produce his handguns using a new technique called precision investment casting. Precision investment casting used molds and patterns to shape molten steel, producing stronger components more efficiently than, and without the wastage of, traditional rough forging and machining techniques. By 1953, Sturm, Ruger was profitable enough to begin manufacturing its products using investment casting, adding to the company's reputation for high quality firearms and helping the company achieve higher profit margins. By the end of the decade, the company's revenues had grown to $3 million. It moved production to a larger plant, remaining in Southport. In 1960, Sturm, Ruger moved beyond handguns for the first time, introducing a semiautomatic hunting rifle, the Ruger .44 Magnum Carbine.

Expansion in the 1960s and 1970s

With the move into rifles, Sturm, Ruger added to its production capacity, opening a second manufacturing plant in Newport, New Hampshire. In 1963, the company, which had been subcontracting its casting work to other foundries, opened its own foundry, called Pine Tree Castings, also in Newport. The company continued to add to its firearms line, while maintaining production of its earlier firearms, adding a .22 caliber autoloading rifle in 1964, and, in 1967, opening a new trend in big game hunting with the introduction of a single-shot rifle, called the Number One. The following year, the company introduced its M-77, a bolt-action rifle. By then, the company's revenues had grown greater than $9 million, generating a net income of nearly $2 million.

Sturm, Ruger went public in 1969, in part to ease the company's entry into the law enforcement market with the introduction of .38 and .357 Magnum revolvers. Ruger was also eyeing a new market: automobiles. Sturm, Ruger actually produced two prototypes of automobiles and had lined up subcontractors and components suppliers. But as environmental and safety factors became more integral to car production, Ruger balked at the prospect of increasing government intervention in the automobile industry. Sturm, Ruger returned to its core business, producing firearms that were already beginning to achieve industry dominance. The company's line expanded to include a black powder "cap-and-ball" revolver and a line of single-action revolvers equipped with automatic safety features.

Awareness of safety issues was sweeping throughout U.S. industries, and the 1970s saw the rise of a new breed of product liability lawsuits. Firearms makers became a target for such lawsuits, and Sturm, Ruger was no exception. While revenues continued to rise, jumping to $33.8 million in 1975, Sturm, Ruger found itself the focus of growing numbers of lawsuits. To head off some of the suits against the company, Sturm, Ruger initiated a program to retrofit its handguns with new safety features. The liability suits, however, continued to pour in, and toward the late 1970s the company agreed to be purchased in a leveraged buyout by Forstmann, Little & Co. of New York. That deal fell through, however, and Ruger decided to maintain control of the company, spurning subsequent offers for Sturm, Ruger.

Surviving the 1980s

Sturm, Ruger entered the 1980s strongly, with revenues greater than $80 million in the 1980s and topping $100 million two years later. The company's income was also strong, returning a consistent ten percent on revenues. Ruger again showed his long-standing commitment to improved manufacturing techniques, converting production to CNC (computer numerically controlled) equipment in the early 1980s.

The company continued to introduce new models, feeding a growing gun collectors market, with products such as its Redhawk double-action revolvers and an expanding line of sporting rifles. The 1980s, however, saw the beginning of a downturn in the U.S. firearms industry, sparked in part by calls for increased gun control after the murder of John Lennon and the attempted assassination of President Reagan. Most of the major firearms manufacturers struggled through the decade; by the end of the 1980s, many of the famous names, such as Colt and Winchester, either faced bankruptcy or had been bought by larger corporations, or both.

As the 1990s began, Sturm, Ruger remained the sole independent among leading firearms manufacturers. The company's own revenues had slipped through much of the decade, but by 1990, sales had begun to climb again, reaching $122 million. At the same time, Sturm, Ruger continued its unbroken record of profitability. In 1990, Sturm, Ruger began trading on the New York Stock Exchange. The following year, Ruger's son, William Ruger, Jr., a Harvard graduate who had joined the company in 1964, was named the company's president. Ruger, Sr. remained as chairman and chief executive.

The company had also found a lucrative extension to its core firearms business: investment casting for manufacturers in other industries, such as the aerospace industry. Sturm, Ruger built on its existing capacity with the acquisition of Manchester, New Hampshire's American Metals and Alloys, Inc. for $3 million in 1985, adding, as the Uni-Cast Division, aluminum casting to the company's Pine Tree ferrous casting capability. Two years later, Sturm, Ruger expanded again, leasing a facility in Prescott, Arizona, adding manufacturing and casting capacity in the Southwest. By the mid-1990s, Sturm, Ruger's investment casting business represented more than ten percent of the company's annual sales.

One factor driving sales was, paradoxically, the increasing public pressure to ban or limit sales of semiautomatic rifles. Although Sturm, Ruger had long followed a policy of restricting sales of its own semiautomatic rifles exclusively to law enforcement and military agencies, fears of tightening government restrictions on purchases of firearms prompted gun enthusiasts to step up their firearms buying, including Sturm, Ruger's handguns and rifles. Sturm, Ruger was also helped by trends within the law enforcement community. Confronted by rising levels of handguns and other weapons on the street, police agencies turned from the traditional police revolver to new and more powerful semiautomatic pistols, including Sturm, Ruger's 9-millimeter pistols.

Sales reached $192.5 million in 1995, including $36.8 million from the company's casting business. The following year, after signing a $150 million agreement with Callaway Golf Company to produce that company's Big Bertha titanium golf club heads, Sturm, Ruger's sales jumped to $223 million. The agreement also called for the two companies to build a joint venture titanium foundry, in addition to Sturm, Ruger's existing Prescott, Arizona foundry, which came online in late 1996. Yet firearms continued to form the company's core and the focus of its future. Under the guidance of its chief and sole firearms designer, William Ruger, Sr., Sturm, Ruger had taken its place among the classic names of U.S. gunmakers.

Principal Divisions: Firearms Division (Newport, New Hampshire); Pine Tree Castings Division (Newport, New Hampshire); Firearms & Ruger Investment Casting Divisions (Prescott, Arizona); Uni-Cast Division (Manchester, New Hampshire).

Further Reading:

  • "Bill Ruger's Gun Company Celebrates 45th Anniversary," New Hampshire Business Review, July 22, 1994, p. 1.
  • Calip, Roger, "William B. Ruger--Legendary Firearm Maker," The Business Times, September 1987, p. 7.
  • Greene, Richard, "Under the Gun," Forbes, March 2, 1981, p. 98.
  • Jones, John A., "Sturm, Ruger Flourishes as an Independent Firearms Firm," Investor's Business Daily, August 24, 1993, p. 36.
  • Millman, Joel, "Steady Finger on the Trigger," Forbes, November 9, 1992, p. 188.
  • Steadman, Nick, "For Sturm, Ruger It Was a Very Good Year," International Defense Review, February 1, 1990, p. 185.
  • Williams, Dick, "Ruger West," Shooting Industry, December 1993, p. 108.
  • Wilson, R.L., Ruger & His Guns, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 19. St. James Press, 1998.

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