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Facts about Alcatraz

A tour boat parked in front of Alcatraz

If you’re living in San Francisco apartments or other parts of the Bay Area, you’ve probably spent some time wondering about Alcatraz, the former island prison located in the chilly waters of the San Francisco Bay in California. This famous prison was in operation from 1934 to 1963, and it was the home of some of the most heinous, disgusting, and dangerous felons the world has ever known. In fact, this maximum-security prison was even home to the bird man of Alcatraz Robert Stroud, Al Capone, the notorious gangster, and many other devious inmates.

The biggest claim to fame of Alcatraz Island also known as The Rock is that many inmates have tried to escape from this hard-core prison, but nobody has ever been able to succeed and many have even died in their attempt to escape. In fact it’s estimated that in this prison’s short 29 year history, more than a dozen inmates have attempted to escape because they thought they would find their way to freedom. None of them succeeded and none ever will since The Rock has been closed as a prison for more than 50 years now.

Just because this island is no longer a prison with inmates, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist any longer. It sure does and it currently operates as a tourist attraction of all things, and we’ll tell you all about the early military prison, the federal prison, famous inmates, and more. So stick with us to learn the truth about The Rock, which is the one prison that no inmate has ever been able to escape from.

he Early Years of Alcatraz Island

In the early years of Alcatraz Island, it was originally discovered by Juan Manual de Ayala who was also the man that gave the island its name. The original name was Isla de los Alcatraces which translates to, "mean island of the pelicans". Obviously there were many pelicans living on the island when it was originally discovered.

In 1850, when Millard Fillmore was president of the United States, he signed an executive order that reserved the island for the US and its military use. At the time, they created a fortress on the island that was home to more than 100 cannons. They designated this island a military installation and used it to protect San Francisco Bay. The first operational lighthouse was also built on Alcatraz Island at this time, so it has even more historical significance than just being a prison.

Alcatraz Island Becomes a Federal Prison

Eventually, Alcatraz Island became home to the federal prison that we all know so much about. This all took place in the year 1933 when the Army released Alcatraz to the Department of Justice of the United States. They specifically took over this island because they wanted this type of prison to become the home to the most notorious and dangerous criminals in the US. They wanted a place to put them away from regular society so that they would not cause harm or damage to the good American people again.

After taking over the island in 1933, they immediately began construction on the prison and built it as fast as possible. The prison opened its doors and became a maximum-security facility on July 1, 1934. James A Johnson was the first warden of the penitentiary and there was one guard for every three inmates. All prisoners had their own cell and this prison was literally filled with the most disruptive prisoners ever in the US prison system. It was a place to send people that you could not house in the regular US penitentiary system because they were too bad, devious, and destructive to keep in the regular pens.

Famous Inmates Spending Time on Alcatraz Island As a Prisoner

As you can imagine, The Rock saw its fair share of famous inmates and if you can remember, since this is the home of the most notorious prisoners ever, there are definitely going to be a few names that you certainly recognize.

Our first example is notorious Chicago crime boss Al Capone. Al Capone was first brought to Alcatraz Island in the 1930s and spent 4 ½ years in the prison. Headlines far and wide across America let the world know that Al Capone was going to be a prisoner at The Rock. As you can imagine, this was huge news at the time since the authorities no longer wanted the infamous gangster to have any contact with the outside world whatsoever like he was able to get when he was imprisoned in Atlanta, Georgia.

George “Machine Gun” Kelly spent 17 years on The Rock. He was convicted of kidnapping and considered one of the most notorious criminals ever. A former public enemy number one of the FBI in the 1930s is known as Alvin “Creepy Karpis” Karpowicz. This man was behind bars on Alcatraz Island for 25 years. He’s famous because out of everyone who’s ever spent time as a prisoner on this island, he was here longer than all of them. 25 years is a long time to spend in the same place, and Alcatraz Island was certainly no joke.

Escape Attempts on Alcatraz Island

Earlier, we mentioned that there were more than a dozen escape attempts in the prison’s 29 year history. When in fact there were actually 14 escape attempts in total. Out of the 14 escape attempts, a total of 36 inmates were altogether involved.

Out of all who have attempted to escape, 23 were captured, six were shot and killed as they attempted to get away, two people drowned and five went altogether missing, but they never showed up on shore so it’s believed that they drowned as well.

Closing Alcatraz’s Doors in 1963

This prison was eventually shut down in 1963. It cost a lot more money to operate the prison than originally expected, so The Rock was closed and the inmates were shipped to other secure facilities. In total, Alcatraz was home to 1576 convicts throughout its 29 years.