Farewell to a real American hero

Farewell to a real American hero

Sagi, Guy J

America lost a real hero on July 6, 2002, when William Batterman Ruger, founder and Chairman Emeritus of Sturm, Ruger & Co., died peacefully at his Prescott, Ariz, home. Born June 21, 1916, in Brooklyn, N.Y., he is widely recognized as one the greatest gun designers in history, a title that overlooks the tremendous odds he overcame to start his business, good deeds he performed and thousands of lives he touched in his 86 years.

Ruger’s passion for guns began at age 12 when he received a rifle from his father. While studying at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he converted an empty room into a machine shop, and in 1938 came up with a light machine gun design evaluated by the US. Army. And during World War II he refined that and other arms designs as a civilian engineer working for the government, contributing greatly to America’s war effort.

In 1949, despite warnings from naysaying “experts” that he and his partner, Alexander McCormick Sturm, were about to waste their $50,000 investment, Sturm, Ruger & Company began its historic journey. Its first gun, a stylish .22 LR blowback pistol, now considered a first handgun for many Americans, was introduced the same year. Retailing for less than $40, a glowing review in The American Rifleman quickly inundated the fledgling company with orders.

When Sturm died in 1951 at age 29, Ruger took over the helm, steering a course that would make him a legend. Recognizing the growing popularity of television Westerns such as “Gunsmoke,” and “Wyatt Earp” in the 1950s, he began work on a Frontier-style revolver.

The result was Ruger’s Single Six, which employed coil springs instead of Colt’s Peacemaker-style flat springs. Its chambering in less expensive .22 Long Rifle, rather than .45 Colt, also made it much more attractive to consumers. In 1955 the company introduced the Blackhawk, a big-bore single-action that has become one of the most popular revolvers ever produced.

Ruger had a hand in the original design and time-honored styling of every firearm his company produced. More than 20,000,000 firearms have been manufactured by Sturm, Ruger & Company, Inc. In more than 50 years of operation, his company-which has been listed on the New York Stock Exchange for the last 10-has never borrowed a dime. It has turned a profit every year of its existence, and today employs 2,000 people in three states.

He developed a precision investment casting method in 1953 that allowed his company to produce higher quality materials with greater precision and reduced waste. Nearly a half century later that process is still being used by the aerospace, automotive and golf industries.

Employees adored him. “You could communicate with him on any level and not be intimidated,” Henry Rodeschin, who worked at the Newport, N.H., plant for 35 years, told reporters. “From the floor sweeper to upper management, he talked to everybody.”

In 1998, a $1 million personal donation from Ruger helped open the NRA’s National Firearms Museum in Fairfax,Va. “With Bill Ruger’s commitment and generous support, our heritage of Second Amendment freedom will remain a living part of our proud history,” said then NRA President Marion P. Hammer. “He has taken it upon himself to help pass America’s torch of liberty, and the lawful firearms ownership that forged our nation, to our children and their children. I am deeply moved by Mr. Ruger’s commitment and, on behalf of all NRA members and gun owners, deeply grateful.”

“Bill Ruger has built the tools man has used to preserve freedom around the world,” NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said during a ceremony honoring Ruger’s donation. “Today he has helped preserve those toolsthose instruments of liberty-to help generations see and know of that great legacy of American Freedom.”

Ruger also established the William B. Ruger Endowment within The NRA Foundation Endowment Program. He was one of its first donors. Today the museum’s William B. Ruger Gallery showcases a different collection of firearms every six to nine months. He was also a member of the Board of Trustees for the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, in Cody, Wyo., for 15 years, and his $1 million donation to the non-profit organization helped open its Firearms Museum.

Ruger is survived by his son William B. Ruger, Jr., who is the current chairman of Sturm, Ruger & Company, daughter Carolyn R. Vogel, six grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. His wife, Mary Thompson Ruger, and son, James Thompson Ruger, preceded him in death.

His legacy is the greatest kind of all-an eloquent reminder that our nation is still home to a rare breed of individual rugged enough to routinely beat the odds, compassionate enough to reach out to those in need, and yet humble enough to understand the significance of our rich history. Ruger was all that and more, and he will be sorely missed. IRO

Copyright National Rifle Association of America Sep 2002

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