Ruger is one of the most iconic and popular of American firearms manufacturers. While they may not have the cache and history of Remington, S&W or Colt, they have carved a place as one of the most innovative and market-disrupting of the “Made in the USA” gunmakers.
Starting from literally nothing with an idea for a new kind of .22 handgun, Ruger is today a multi-faceted manufacturer whose offerings span everything from semi-auto handguns to all kinds of revolvers, rifles and even a few shotguns.
Sharp business practices and an even sharper sense of what the shooting consumer wants has seen them churn out one successful hit after another. From the Mini-14 to the mighty Super Redhawk, it is a rare Ruger that does not make money for the company and make for a quality, reasonably priced arm for its owner. There is a want for every need and a Ruger for every requirement.
But the Ruger empire owes its very existence to one particular .22 pistol, itself an idea that sprang from a Japanese World War II era pistol brought back to the States by a returning Marine. That pistol was the Ruger Standard, sometimes called the Mark I Standard, and it set a benchmark for .22 pistol performance and paved the way for legions of its successors to dominate the rimfire market for decades to come.
In this article we will take a look at one of the most famous American rimfire pistols and consider the influence it has exerted in shaping rimfire designs in the years since its introduction.
Influence, Design and Introduction of the Mark I Standard
The genesis of the Mark I is found all the way back in the years following World War II. William “Bill” Ruger, one of the founders of Sturm, Ruger and Co. (better known today as just Ruger) set out to design a .22 LR semi-auto pistol that would be perfect for small game hunting and casual sport shooting, be it at targets or just plinking cans and other objects of opportunity.
In setting about bringing his creation to life, Bill Ruger was greatly influenced by a pair of Japanese Nambu pistols that he has purchased from a Marine who had in turn brought them back from the Pacific theater of the Second World War
The Standard was to feature several innovative features and utilize production techniques that would be fairly drastic departures from the conventions of the day: springs were made from coiled wire instead of the traditional (and failure prone) flat springs, the receiver was made from two sheet metal sides welded together instead of a single block of milled or forged steel.
It lacked a slide entirely, instead using a bolt that rode inside the receiver, far more like a rifle action than other pistol actions of the day. Many manufacturing and finishing processes were employed in such a way as to reduce cost while maintaining a high standard of quality, a hallmark that Ruger maintains to this very day. The gun was certainly innovative in its time.
A prototype of the Standard was quickly made, Bill being something of a design and engineering genius, but he did not have the means to get his creation to market.
Salvation came in the form of his wealthy pal, Alex Sturm, in 1949, who upon being shown the prototype Mark I was instantly smitten by the streamlined, handy little pistol that evoked the lines of the legendary German Luger (though the two shared nothing in common mechanically).
Seeing an entire market sector waiting for just such a gun to come along, even if they did not know they wanted it, Alex Sturm was fast on the draw and financed the burgeoning new arms company that would bear his name and the Mark I Standard, then called just the “Standard” was born as the initial, only and flagship product of Sturm, Ruger and Co. A star was born, and unbeknownst to either of the founders, an entire lineage of similar guns based on the Standard was to follow.
All it took to get the pistol off the ground was a glowing review in the American Rifleman magazine combined with a retail price that kneecapped competitors’ guns. A few ads placed in that same magazine saw pre-orders rolling in; the Mark I was on its way to stardom, and launched a company that we all know today.
While Bill Ruger was the mechanical genius solely responsible for the design of the Standard, Alex Sturm did make one stylistic contribution that continues to define Ruger pistols to this very day. It was Sturm who created the stylized “eagle” logo which would become so closely associated with the Standard and with the company.
The blazing red bird certainly looked good embossed on the grips and in the advertisements! In a bittersweet turn of events, Alex Sturm would not live to see just how big and how successful the company that bore his name would become: he perished from hepatitis in November of the year 1951.
In his honor and as a memorial, Bill Ruger changed the color of Sturm’s eagle logo from red to black on all models of the gun they both brought to market. A fitting tribute for a good man gone too soon.
The Mark I Standard would remain in production essentially unchanged from its original design for the next three decades, and in its wake would follow several newer models which put new spins on the trusted, loved Standard model. Target models with heavy barrels, design upgrades introduced with new “MK” series featuring things like bolt catches, and improved sights would all come later.
One of the biggest changes was the introduction of the 22/45 variants, which feature the classic Standard action mated to a new polymer frame that closely mimicked the grip angle and control configuration of the 1911. Both the Standard-type frames and 22/45 frames remain highly popular today, and have dominated the rimfire pistol market since their introduction.
Mark I Standard Controls and Features
The original Standard pistol will be instantly familiar and recognizable to fans of the modern Ruger rimfires. The bolt arrangement with the prominent “wings” for gripping in order to chamber a round and cock the pistol, the rear-located safety on the left side of the gun, and for the non-22/45 users, the heel magazine release will all be familiar.
The Standard pistol magazines hold 9 rounds, with 10 rounds being achievable on board if you plus up the gun with one in the chamber. The original barrel length was 4 ¾”, though longer and shorter barrels were introduced.
Though there is no dedicated bolt-stop on the Standard (that feature would come later on MK II series guns) the bolt can be locked back by holding it the rear-most position and engaging the manual safety. Note that the safety on the MK I guns can only be engaged when the action is already cocked, meaning that a pistol in “hammer down” condition cannot have its safety manipulated.
Operation of the gun is otherwise simple: once a loaded magazine is inserted into the pistol, the bolt is cycled to the rear via grasping the aforementioned ears and pulling the bolt all the way to the rear before releasing it to fly home under full spring power, exactly as you would with a normal pistol slide.
At this point, the safety can be switched on if shooting is not imminent, otherwise the gun will fire once the trigger is pulled. The bolt reciprocates with every shot, but will not stay back when the last shot is fired.
Magazines are released via the heel mounted catch at the bottom of the grip.
Suitability for Preppers
Though these older MK I’s are mostly relegated to safe queens and collector status owing to the dominance of its newer progeny, there are still an awful lot of these older Rugers floating around, especially in the hands of some older preppers.
That’s a good thing for them since, assuming you don’t want the gun as a collector’s piece, they are nearly as good as the latter-day Ruger MK and 22/45 guns! These classic rimfires are rugged, reliable, and just as suitable today for hunting and other shooting as the year they were created!
The technology of these Ruger guns has steadily improved since they were first made, but the essential design has changed very little, and the guns are rugged, reliable, and highly weather resistant owing to the tightly sealed action when the bolt is closed. You can take your Ruger into some seriously bad weather and expect it to run like a champ.
While the original blued finishes will need regular care to keep from rusting, if you are the owner of a model that is in stainless steel or has been refinished in something tougher you will be packing one rugged little rimfire, able to function in nearly any environment.
As far as rimfire semis go, you will hardly ever find more reliable examples than Ruger’s offerings, and the original Standard is no exception.
The pistol can serve well as a dedicated BOB pistol, one carried as a backup in case your primary handgun is lost or lent, or you might even rely on it as a primary defensive gun if you lack the strength to confidently manage a more powerful gun. More than capable of taking smaller animals and no joke on defense, the MK I Standard is as reliable as guns that are much larger so long as good ammo used.
On that note, one point you must be aware of is magazine compatibility: newer magazines will not fit the original Standard, and even later manufacture Standards shipped with magazines that would not fit the earlier guns! If you have an early Standard and know all your magazines work, you will be good to go, just don’t expect to find any easily in your travels! Take extra special care of the magazines you have.
I am happy to report that this is one classic gun that can hang with the most modern of firearms, so long as it is in good repair. It just serves to illustrate how ahead of its time Ruger was, and how deserving of their popularity the descendents of that early Mark I really are: reliable, accurate, durable and easy to shoot. What’s not to like?
Well, one thing, actually: the Standard, like all Ruger rimfire semis up until the recent introduction of the MK IV’s, are scream-at-the-sky punch-your-mother difficult to disassemble and reassemble reliably.
Now, this is not a nitpick- a brush and patch through the bore and generous helping of lubricant will keep these guns going for a long, long time with no more serious care. But eventually you will have to pay the piper and strip your pistol so you can thoroughly clean it.
Now comes the point where you’ll invent entirely new curses unfit for any language of mankind. It would not do to attempt this operation in the field only to be unable to get the gun back together! This is something you must, must, MUST practice until you cannot get it wrong. Don’t say I did not warn you!
The Ruger MK I Standard is an iconic pistol that single handedly changed the landscape and the market for American rimfires. A classy, reliable and eminently shootable handgun, it is at home in your pack or holster for nearly any task, and remains as viable today as it was when it first launched the company whose name it bears.
If you are fortunate enough to own one of these gems still in good condition, be confident that it will probably continue to serve you well for the foreseeable future!