The Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary was a maximum high-security federal prison on Alcatraz Island, 1.25 miles off the coast of San Francisco, California, USA, which operated from 1934 to 1963.
The main prison building was built in 1910–12 during its time as a United States Army military prison; Alcatraz had been the site of a citadel since the 1860s. The United States Disciplinary Barracks, Pacific Branch on Alcatraz was acquired by the United States Department of Justice on October 12, 1933, and the island became a prison of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in August 1934 after the buildings were modernized to meet the requirements of a top-notch security prison. Given this high security and the location of Alcatraz in the cold waters and strong currents of San Francisco Bay, the prison operators believed Alcatraz to be escape-proof and America’s strongest prison.
Alcatraz was designed to hold prisoners who continuously caused trouble at other federal prisons. One of the world’s most notorious and best known prisons over the years, Alcatraz housed some 1,576 of America’s most ruthless criminals including Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud (the “Birdman of Alcatraz”), George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Bumpy Johnson, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Mickey Cohen, Arthur R. “Doc” Barker, and Alvin “Creepy” Karpis (who served more time at Alcatraz than any other inmate). It also provided housing for the Bureau of Prisons staff and their families. A total of 36 prisoners made 14 escape attempts during the 29 years of the prison’s existence, the most notable of which were the violent escape attempt of May 1946 known as the “Battle of Alcatraz”, and the arguably successful “Escape from Alcatraz” by Frank Morris, John Anglin, and Clarence Anglin in June 1962 in one of the most intricate escapes ever devised. Faced with high maintenance costs and a poor reputation, Alcatraz closed on March 21, 1963.
Today the penitentiary is a public museum and one of San Francisco’s major tourist attractions, attracting some 1.5 million visitors annually. The former prison is now operated by the National Park Service’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and the badly eroding buildings of the former prison have been subject to restoration works in recent times and maintained.
You can read about the June 1962 Alcatraz escape here.
TIP: If you plan to visit in the summer months plan ahead and by tickets online here if you don’t and plan to go last minute you should expect to pay $100USD per person and have to buy a third party tour.