Alcatraz Island, also known as ‘The Rock,’ a rocky island in San Francisco Bay, off the coast of California, in the United States. From 1934 to 1963, a facility on the island served as a federal prison for some of the most dangerous civilian prisoners. Learn more about the history of Alcatraz Island here.
- There have never been any confirmed prisoner escapes from Alcatraz. This one shocked me! With the popularity of the 1979 movie, Escape from Alcatraz, about a group of three men who used spoons to escape “The Rock,” I’m positive I’m not the only who believed this myth.
- The island was home to prisoners as early as the 1850s. When San Francisco was put on the map during the Gold Rush of the 1840s, Alcatraz was used for military prisoners.
- It is technically possible to swim to shore. In 1962, one inmate managed to squeeze through a window and swim to shore. Unfortunately, he was so tired by the time he reached land, that the police found him lying unconscious at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge.
- At any given time, there were about 300 civilians living on Alcatraz that included both women and children. The families of the guard staff lived on the island, of course.
People also ask
How long has Alcatraz Island been around?
When did Alcatraz become a federal prison in California?
How did people live in Alcatraz?
What is the significance of Alcatraz?
Check out more facts about Alcatraz Island below: Facts about Alcatraz Island 1: a group of aboriginal people. A group of aboriginal people spent their time for 19 months in the island starting in November 1969. This group came from San Francisco. Facts about Alcatraz Island 2: National Historic Landmark. The island was listed in National Historic Landmark in 1986.
- Al Capone played banjo in the inmate band. The notorious gangster and mob boss was among the first prisoners to occupy the new Alcatraz federal prison in August 1934.
- There were no confirmed prisoner escapes from Alcatraz. A total of 36 inmates put the supposedly “escape-proof” Alcatraz to the test. Of those convicts, 23 were captured, six were shot to death and two drowned.
- Alcatraz is named for sea birds. Before criminals became its denizens, the windswept island was home to large colonies of brown pelicans. When Spanish Lieutenant Juan Manuel de Ayala became the first known European to sail through the Golden Gate in 1775, he christened the rocky outcrop “La Isla de los Alcatraces,” meaning “Island of the Pelicans.”
- In spite of his nickname, the “Birdman of Alcatraz” had no birds in the prison. While Robert Stroud was serving a manslaughter sentence for killing a bartender in a brawl, he fatally stabbed a guard at Leavenworth Prison in 1916.
During the 29 years it was in use, the jail held some of the most notorious criminals in American history, such as Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud (the "Birdman of Alcatraz"), George "Machine Gun" Kelly, Bumpy Johnson, Rafael Cancel Miranda (a member of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party who attacked the United States Capitol building in 1954), Mickey Cohen, Arthur R. "Doc" Barker, and Alvin "Creepy" Karpis (who served more time at Alcatraz than any other inmate). It also provided housing ...
Welcome to Alcatraz History. Alcatraz History was designed to help introduce you to the rich history of Alcatraz during the penitentiary years and many of the convicts who called “the Rock” home. From the 1934 until 1963, Alcatraz was America's premier maximum-security prison, the final stop for the nation's most incorrigible prisoners.
- Spanish explorers discovered Alcatraz Island in 1775. They named it La Isla de los Alcatraces, which means “Island of the Pelicans.” Prisoners later called it “The Rock.”
- In 1850, President Millard Fillmore (1800–1874) reserved Alcatraz Island for military use. A fortress was built on it and about 100 cannons were placed around the island to protect San Francisco Bay.
- The largest group of Native Americans imprisoned at Alcatraz was 19 Hopi “hostiles.” They were imprisoned because they refused to farm the way the U.S. government wanted them to.
- The "Escape from Alcatraz Marathon” is held every year to show that it is possible to escape from Alcatraz and live. Created in 1980, it includes a 1.5-mile swim to San Francisco, an 18-mile bike ride, and an 8-mile run.
- Historical Significance
- The Rock Is A Rock
- Alcatraz Gets A Name: Explorers
- Fremont's Claim
"The Rock" became a synonym for Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay long before its penitentiary housed the most desperate federal prisoners in the United States for almost 30 years, from 1934 to 1963. Alcatraz's historical significance reaches much further back in time and possesses more facets than the story of bank robbers and kidnappers. On the island stood the first lighthouse on America's Pacific shores, a light that has guided ships in and out of the magnificent bay for almost 125 years. For nearly 75 years, the island served as a military prison for army convicts from both the western states and overseas possessions. And for 50 years, Alcatraz played a key role in the defenses of San Francisco Harbor.
A Description Despite later tales that the island was honeycombed with Spanish tunnels and dungeons, it attracted very little attention ;from explorers and settlers before the Mexican War. Nor was there much about it that was attractive. Alcatraz jutted out of the bay, a barren irregularly shaped rock that was devoid of flowing water as well as vegetation. An American army officer described it as being "entirely without resources within itself and the soil is scarcely perceptible being rocky and precipitous on all sides. Its first surveyor wrote: "This Island is chiefly composed of irregularly stratified sandstone covered with a thin coating of guano. The stone is full of seams in all directions which render it unfit for any building purposes & probably difficult to quarry." He added: "The island has no beach & but two or three points where small boats can land." His survey showed that the island was I, 705 feet long and that its maximum width came to 580 feet. Its long axis lay in...
Because of its location in the midst of the swift currents of the bay, Alcatraz (where one could get close to the water) provided an excellent platform from which to harvest the great schools of fish that passed beneath its slopes. But if Indians made use of the island as a fishing station, they left no evidence of their visits. Not until the third quarter of the 18th century did Alcatraz enter into history. Sgt. Jose Francisco Ortega, chief scout for Gaspar de Portola's expedition, may have seen Alcatraz Island when he stumbled upon the Golden Gate in 1769. Three years later, two Spanish gentlemen most certainly did. Capt. Pedro Fages and Father Juan Crespi, exploring the area where Berkeley now stands, looked westward toward the Golden Gate and noted the principal islands within their view. Fages wrote in his journal: "Within the estuary we saw five islands, three of them making a triangle opposite the mouth, with a large distance between them; and the nearest of them to the chann...
During the last years of the Mexican regime, a number of citizens, native and naturalized, of the Republic applied for grants of land around San Francisco Bay at locations that within a short time would be demanded by the United States for use as military reservations for the defense of the harbor. While some of the original grantees had intentions of developing these lands, others were purely speculators and, after the conquest of California, undoubtedly had high hopes that the United States would be forced to pay well to obtain possession of them. Ownership disputes would soon plague all the early military reservations: Presidio, Point San Jose (Fort Mason), Lime Point, Angel Island, and Alcatraz. Early in 1849 the U. S. Congress appropriated funds for a joint commission of army and navy officers to examine the Pacific Coast with reference to its defense. Maj. John Lind Smith, senior officer of the commission, wrote from San Francisco concerning Mexican titles. He understood that...
Families lived on Alcatraz during its prison years: The guards and officers lived on the island with their spouses and children. There's even an Alumni Association for folks who grew up there. Prisoners actually did escape from Alcatraz: While it was a prison, 36 tried to get away. Of those, 23 were captured, six were shot, and two drowned.