In April 1940, the US Ordnance Department circulated a request for a new light machine gun to replace the Browning M1919A4. It was to be shorter and lighter than the Browning, and was not to be based on the Browning system (presumably the Department wanted to move on from the bulky and heavy 1919 system to something more modern). Being an optimistic and self-confident young engineer at the time, Bill Ruger figured, “How hard could it be?”. He whipped up a design and took it to the Auto-Ordnance corporation, who promptly wrote up a contract to build the gun and submit it to trials.
As it turns out – and as Ruger would later write – it could be quite hard to create a ground-up new design to beat John Browning’s work in just 4 or 5 months (shocking!). When Ruger’s gun was tested, it was found to have a few good aspects, but was generally unreliable and failed to complete the scheduled 10,000-round endurance test. All of the other guns in that trial failed for various reasons, though, and a second trial was scheduled, giving the manufacturers time to improve their designs. Ruger and Auto-Ordnance were unable to substantially correct the problems with the gun, however, and it did as badly in the second trial as it had in the first. Ultimately, a separate procurement process by the Infantry Department would result in the M1919A6 Browning, which was adopted for the role of light machine gun.
This experience would serve Ruger well, as he would go on to do quite a lot more work with Auto-Ordnance before forming his own tremendously successful company.
Thanks to the Cody Firearms Museum for allowing me access to film this!