Alcatraz's Early History
Before becoming a famous prison, Alcatraz Island was a barren sandstone outcrop. It was named 'Isla de los Alcatraces' (Island of the Pelicans) by Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala in 1775.
Military Fortress Emerges
In 1850, President Millard Fillmore declared Alcatraz a military reservation. It evolved into a fortress, with 100 cannons around the island, becoming the West Coast's most formidable harbor defense by the Civil War.
Civil War Prison
During the Civil War, Alcatraz served as a detention site for war prisoners and Confederate sympathizers. It housed over 300 prisoners in brick cells, fortifying its reputation as an inescapable fortress.
Federal Prison Era
Alcatraz transitioned to a federal prison in 1934, aiming to house the most troublesome inmates. Notorious prisoners included Al Capone and George 'Machine Gun' Kelly, enhancing its infamous legacy.
Native American Occupation
From 1969 to 1971, Alcatraz was occupied by Native American activists. They highlighted federal mistreatment of indigenous peoples, and though eventually removed, their protest drew significant public attention.
No Escape Successful
There were 14 known escape attempts involving 36 inmates. Contrary to popular belief, no evidence confirms successful escapes; the treacherous currents and cold waters of San Francisco Bay thwarted prisoners.
Tourist Attraction Today
Alcatraz Island is now a National Historic Landmark drawing over 1.5 million visitors yearly. It offers a glimpse into its layered past, from military bastion to iconic penitentiary and site of protest.