There are few firearms enthusiasts who do not already know how the Ruger story began with the appearance of a small advertisement in the pages of the American Rifleman in the summer of 1949, heralding “The .22 RUGER pistol... the first overall improvement in automatic pistol design since the Browning patent of 1905.” Bold words, but the efficient, reliable, accurate, and inexpensive ($37.50 introductory price) Ruger Standard Model soon became, and remains today, the largest selling, most popular .22 autoloading pistol in history. The first version featured a 4 3/4-inch tapered barrel with six-groove, 1:14-inch RH twist rifling. It was definitely different from all .22 auto pistols that had come before.
It had no “slide” as in conventional-form autoloaders but instead employed a cylindrical bolt that operated within a tubular receiver, more resembling a .22 autoloading rifle than other .22 semiautomatic pistols. Coil/music-wire springs, not conventional flat springs, were used throughout its mechanism. The dovetailed rear sight was fixed atop the receiver and therefore did not move when the gun was fired. From a manufacturing point of view, perhaps its most innovative aspect was that the frame was constructed of facing halves stamped from two flat sheets of steel then welded together. Again, not typical, but plenty strong for a .22 rimfire action and less expensive to produce than the forged or milled frames of other .22 pistol models—the main reason for the Ruger pistol’s remarkably low price against its competition, a position it has maintained for many years.
The Ruger .22 pistol was an instant success. The first production shipped in autumn 1949, and from that moment forward Sturm, Ruger & Co. has been sustained by profit from sales. As soon as the Standard Model went to market, new versions, variations, and small design modifications and refinements began to be produced. The first major addition was the Mark I Target Automatic, which wasannounced in December 1950. Mechanically the same as the Standard Model, it had a tapered 6 7/8-inch barrel, a Patridge front sight blade undercut to reduce glare, a “Micro-adjustable” rear sight, and an improved trigger with stops to reduce slack and overtravel. More variations and configurations followed, and all versions sold very well. The one-millionth Ruger Standard Model pistol came off the line in 1979.
Throughout the first 33 years of continuous production,the basic mechanical operation of all versions of the Standard Model and Mark I pistols remained essentially unchanged, with differences only in barrel shape and length and type of sights. The final original-design pistol came off the assembly line on the last working day of December 1981 and was immediately replaced by the Mark II Standard Model and Mark II Target Model series, which had the same list of variations in terms of barrel styles and sight systems but also included several new mechanical features. For one, there was a long-anticipated bolt lock plus a pair of recesses at the rear sides of the receiver for easier grasp of the bolt when cocking. A magazine redesign gave 10-round capacity instead of the previous nine. Most significantly, the safety was redesigned so that it locked only the sear (instead of bolt and sear together), which allowed the bolt to be pulled to the rear for visual inspection of the chamber while the safety was engaged instead of requiring the safety to be taken off to inspect the chamber. The trigger pivot retainer was redesigned with a music-wire spring instead of a lock washer to make it easier to disassemble and reassemble the gun.
The new Mark II pistols continued to be as popular as their predecessors, with many more new versions added in the nearly 20 years since the transition. The 2000 Ruger catalog lists 17 individual current model variations of the gun, ranging in price from $265 to $486, including blue-steel, stainless-steel, and polymer-frame versions; barrel lengths from four to 10 inches, tapered or bull barrels; fixed or adjustable sights. Ruger offers the largest number of sporting .22 rimfire pistols in the world—there’s something for everybody. Half a century on the block and demand has never slowed.