In 1949, Alexander Sturm and William B. Ruger formed Sturm, Ruger & Company. On limited capital, they bought used tooling, set up shop and began producing an affordable .22 semiautomatic pistol with a nine-shot magazine: the Standard Auto.
THE STANDARD AUTO
The Standard Auto was unlike any other. 22 pistols in that the action was more like a rifle action than a pistol action, having a bolt inside a tubular receiver, as opposed to a slide atop a frame, as was typical of other designs. This made for a very rugged and reliable design, and the Ruger pistol proved to be accurate as well. The tubular receiver was mounted atop a stamped-and-welded grip frame, which housed the fire control parts and magazine.
This is the pistol that launched the Ruger brand, and the company and product line have been growing ever since.
Shortly thereafter, about 1951, Ruger introduced the Mark I Target pistol. In this first generation, only the target model pistols were designated “Mark I.” It was the same basic design as the Standard Auto, but it wore a heavy, longer barrel, adjustable sights and had a better trigger.
The Standard Auto and Mark I pistols enjoyed enormous popularity, while other brands fell by the wayside. The pistol proved to be reliable, accurate and affordable, and most other .22 semiauto pistols just could not compete.
THE MARK II
The Standard Auto and Mark I pistols remained in continuous production through 1981, with the pistol receiving significant changes and becoming the Mark II in 1982. At this point, both the fixed-sight Standard Auto and the Target Model pistols were christened as the “Mark II.” The Mark II retained most of the features of the earlier pistols but added a bolt stop to hold the bolt open on an empty magazine and increased the magazine capacity to 10. The Mark II 22/45 polymer-framed version was introduced in 1993, and the Mark II pistol continued to be produced through early 2005.
In 2005, Ruger again made design changes to the .22 pistol, designating the pistol as the “Mark III.” The Mark III saw the introduction of a loaded-chamber indicator, a magazine disconnect safety and an internal key lock, all of which were not particularly welcomed by most shooters. Even so, a popular change was moving the magazine catch from the heel of the grip frame to the left side, just behind the trigger guard, as most Americans seem to prefer.
The Mark III pistols continued production into 2016, with many variations available, including stainless steel, blued or aluminum alloy barrel/receiver units mounted atop stainless, blued or polymer grip frames.
This brings us to the most significant changes yet to the Ruger .22 pistol, now designated the “Mark IV.” I first saw a prototype of the Mark IV several months prior to it being announced and had been more than anxious to see it go into production.
While shooters have always loved the Ruger .22 pistol design, many have belly-ached at the process required to disassemble and reassemble the pistols for cleaning and maintenance. If done exactly right, the pistol will sometimes, just sometimes, go back together very smoothly and easily. However, the process can be frustrating at times, even when following directions closely. The mainspring housing must be perfectly aligned with the hammer strut and receiver or it just ain’t going back together—regardless of the size of the mallet used to bang on it or the colorfulness of the vocabulary used to curse it.
“THAT FIRST SUCCESSFUL DESIGN HAS ENDURED FOR DECADES, SERVING MILLIONS OF SHOOTERS WITH A FINE, RELIABLE AND AFFORDABLE PISTOL.”
The Mark IV solves that aggravation with the push of a button. Located just beneath the receiver at the rear of the pistol is a black button that is pressed to allow the receiver to tilt upward and away from the grip frame and then lifting the barrel/receiver from the grip frame—much like breaking open a double- or single-barrel shotgun. The bolt then slides easily out of the receiver for cleaning.
Other changes to the pistol include the elimination of the loaded-chamber indicator and key lock features, which were unpopular on the Mark III series. While the magazine disconnect safety has been retained, it has been redesigned, and the magazine is ejected sharply when the mag release button is pressed.
One of the most endearing features of the Mark IV, to me, is the addition of an ambidextrous manual safety, making the pistol user-friendly for us left-handed shooters; and the safety design is much better for both right- and left-handed shooters, being much easier to manipulate than the previous safety of the past generations. I was born terminally left handed, and for many years, I have been hoping the aftermarket would develop an ambidextrous safety for the Ruger .22 pistol. It never happened. The Mark IV is much better suited for left-handed use.
I have in my possession a very early Standard Auto, serial number 0132. I bought it because to me, it is a historical firearm. It’s just a Standard Auto like many others. But if these early pistols had not been successful, one of the world’s best makers of firearms would have folded, and many of the firearms we enjoy today would never have been. That first successful design has endured for decades, serving millions of shooters with a fine, reliable and affordable pistol.
Ruger recently did something for me—which probably means nothing to anyone else but means a great deal to me: Knowing that I still have serial number 0132, the good folks at Ruger produced a very similar Mark IV Standard Auto with a similar serial number: JQ-0132 (“JQ”—“Jeff Quinn”). They didn’t have to do this, but there are some classy people running Ruger, and the people are what has built that company into what it is today.
About the Author
Jeff Quinn is a full-time writer/reviewer on Gunblast. com, an online gun magazine started in 2000. He has also written for the Gun Digest Annual and enjoys living life in the woods of Tennessee, where he raises Longhorn cattle … and his grandkids.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the August 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.