Museum's Ruger collection a rare find

ON THE OUTDOORS

July 23, 2000|By CANDUS THOMSON

He looks like Teddy Roosevelt, and now William B. Ruger Sr. has a display at the American Firearms Museum, just like the old Rough Rider himself.

Ruger, one of the most influential gun designers and manufacturers in the country, has lent a portion of his extensive private collection to the museum, which is part of the National Rifle Association headquarters in Fairfax, Va.

The exhibit, called "Ruger and his Guns," focuses on firearms, but it is much more. Nearly a dozen paintings, including works by N.C. Wyeth and Frederic Remington, three bronze sculptures and a rare 1969 Ruger "Tourer" automobile also are on display.

NRA curators went to Ruger's New Hampshire home to choose guns from significant periods in his life and that of his Connecticut-based company, Sturm, Ruger & Co.

"We're trying to display guns the public wouldn't otherwise see," explains NRA spokeswoman Mary Sue Faulkner.

The exhibit is in addition to the 14 permanent displays at the museum, which opened two years ago and has the largest collection of firearms east of the Mississippi.

"We have 3,500 guns in the collection, 2,000 of them on display," says senior curator Douglas Wicklund. "The bulk of them were donated or are on loan. We had to buy only seven guns."

The museum has the oldest gun in America - a 1350 "hand cannon" - and a carbine brought over on the Mayflower by John Alden. There are separate dioramas of weapons from each of America's major wars.

"Veterans who come to visit say we got the exhibits dead-on," says Wicklund.

There's a display of political firepower (including TR's "Big Stick" shotgun with the presidential seal on both barrels), the guns that won the West, and a handgun from the movie "From Russia With Love," courtesy of Bond, James Bond.

Computer terminals scattered throughout the museum allow visitors to type in the display case and weapon number and get all the information about it.

The Ruger display includes a pair of flintlock dueling pistols made in 1793 and two single-shot percussion pistols given to Ruger as a boy that began his collection.

The exhibit also is a company retrospective. In one display case are the prototypes of the .22-caliber Standard Pistol first produced by Alexander Sturm and Ruger in 1949. In a nearby case is the 1-millionth Standard Pistol, manufactured in 1979.

Two other models that have exceeded the 1-million mark are in the exhibit as well - the .308-caliber, bolt-action Model 77 and the .22-caliber auto-loading carbine.

Sturm, Ruger & Co. has made more than 18 million firearms and employs more than 2,000 people.

Ruger, 84, did not attend the reception last Monday that marked the exhibit's opening, during which he was lauded as a "friend, benefactor, and industry pioneer."

NRA officials gave him an honorary life membership, only the 18th issued in the group's 129-year history, and said his life stands out as an American success story.

Ruger, a college dropout, worked as a gun designer at the Springfield Armory in Massachusetts and then at Auto Ordinance Corp. in Connecticut perfecting a submachine gun for the war effort.

After World War II, he built parts for record players and then went broke building customized carpenter's tools.

He had an idea for a semiautomatic .22-caliber pistol but no money. Alexander Strum, a young, Yale-educated author looking for an investment, came up with $50,000, and a partnership was formed. Two years into their highly successful business, Strum died of hepatitis at the age of 28. Ruger changed the color of the company's red eagle logo to black, and it has remained that way.

Like Teddy Roosevelt, Ruger lived large. Big game hunting, collecting artwork and antique cars, marrying, divorcing, and remarrying the same woman.

The old lion still roars, too.

Last year, he wrote the Washington Post criticizing the media for "a subconscious anti-gun bias" while using violence to sell more movies, video games and CDs.

"As a firearms manufacturer, I would implore them to stop using violence to make a killing," he wrote. "Let's not pretend it's anything else."

The exhibit will run through the end of the year. In May 2001, the museum will display a portion of the Baretta family collection.

The National Firearms Museum is off Interstate 66 (Exit 57A). It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The museum Web site is www.nrahq.com/shooting/museum.

Fish for needy

Take 87 senior citizens with a sense of adventure and civic responsibility, add eight charter boats, and what do you have?

Another successful year for the "Fish to Feed the Needy" program.

The seniors, with assistance from members of the Perry Hall chapter of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association, caught 1,385 fish - big spot, croakers and sea trout - in two hours of fishing on July 11.

Bill Huppert, a member of the MSSA chapter, says that cleaned and packaged, the fish donation to the Maryland Food Bank amounted to 750 pounds.

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