Alcatraz was the supermax federal prison of its own time. It is famously known for its forbidding structure and its nickname of ‘the Rock’. Over the years, it housed approximately 1,545 of America’s most ruthless criminals. Alcatraz Island is located in the heart of San Francisco Bay. For thousands of years, it was a lonely island.

How did it get this name?

The word Alcatraz means ‘strange birds’ or pelicans. This island was named ‘de los alcatraces’ by a Spanish explorer Lt. Juan Manuel de Ayala in 1775. He was the first person to map the San Francisco Bay.

Early History: –

It has not always been a military prison. Initially, it was a fort. President Millard Fillmore declared it as a military reservation in 1850. In 1907, it became an official United States military prison and remained till 1933. In 1933, it became a part of the Bureau of Prisons.

How big were the cells were in the prison?

The cells in that prison were of the size 5 feet by 9 feet. They had a toilet, a sink and a sleeping cot.

Alcatraz Island appearing in popular movies: –

Alcatraz has been appeared in many movies depicting its former status as a prison. The most popular films include ‘Birdman of Alcatraz’ and ‘Murder in the First’.

June 1962 Alcatraz Escape Attempt: –

On June 11, 1962, three men Frank Morris, John Anglin and Clarence Anglin who were imprisoned in Alcatraz prison successfully escaped their cells and the island too with the help of a makeshift inflatable raft and life vests.

Their fate after entering the bay still remains unknown. Another prisoner Allen Wets had also been the part of their escape plan but he was left behind. At the time of investigation, he helped the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Lighthouse Tower

Quick Facts: –

  • There were no confirmed prisoner escapes from this prison. Total 36 inmates tried, of those 23 were captured, 6 were shot dead and 2 drowned.
  • It was also home to the first ever lighthouse of the Pacific Coast.
  • The largest group of Native Americans imprisoned here was 19 Hopi ‘hostiles’. They refused to farm the way government wanted them to.
  • These protesters also opposed forced education of their children in government boarding schools.
  • Every prisoner had his own 5 feet by 9 feet cell. Each cell had a toilet and a small sink.
  • It was the only federal prison at the time which offered hot water shower.
  • Al Capone got creative during is stay here. He was credited with setting up the prison band.
  • This island was home to the Pacific Coast’s first lighthouse. This lighthouse was activated in 1854.
  • It was the first light house of its kind to be built on the West Coast of the United States.
  • The Alcatraz prison not necessarily housed the criminals who had committed the most heinous crimes.
  • The most incorrigible and disobedient inmates in the federal penal system were shifted to this prison.
  • The guards and officers of the prison also lived on the island with their families.

Alcatraz Island


Questions & Answers: –

Ques. What was the average number of prisoners in the Alcatraz?

Ans. The average number was 260.


Ques. When did it become the military outpost?

Ans. In 1850s


Ques. What was the initial name of this island and what does that mean?

Ans. It was initially named Isla de Alcatraces, which means Island of the Pelicans.


Ques. Who was the original owner of the island?

Ans. Julian Workman originally owned the island. It was given by the Mexican governor to him in 1846.


Ques. For how many years did it operated as a federal prison?

Ans. This prison operated for 29 years, from 1934 to 1963.


Ques. In its duration as a prison, how many escape attempts were made?

Ans. There were 14 escape attempts by 36 prisoners. 6 of them were shot dead, 2 drowned, 5 went missing and 23 were caught.


Ques. What was the daily cost to house a prisoner on this island prison?

Ans. $10 was the daily cost.


Ques. For how many years was the prison dormant?

Ans. For six long years


Ques. Name some of the famous prisoners of Alcatraz prison?

Ans. Al Capone, George Kelly, and Robert Stroud


Ques. How much time did Al Capone spend in this prison?

Ans. He spent 4.5 years there in the 1930s.


Ques. Who was known as the Birdman of Alcatraz?

Ans. Robert Stroud


Ques. When did the island become part of the newly created Golden Gate National Recreation Area?

Ans. In 1972


Ques. What was the name given to Alcatraz by the prisoners?

Ans. Prisoners gave it a name ‘the Rock’.


Ques. When was the Escape from Alcatraz Marathon created?

Ans. It was created in 1980. It is held every year to show that it is possible to escape from Alcatraz and live.


Ques. Which inmate managed to swam to the shore?

Ans. In 1962, John Paul Scott squeezed himself through a window and swam to shore. Later, he was found by the police at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge.



Location Map of Alcatraz: –

Map of Alcatraz