About Alcatraz Island
Alcatraz Island was the site of a notoriously harsh prison based off the coast of San Francisco, California, this isolated position earning it the name of “The Rock”. However, prior to becoming a prison, Alcatraz Island had a long history as a military base.
Initially discovered by a Spanish explorer in 1775, Alcatraz Island was first used by the US military in 1853, when it established a base there, transforming it into Fortress Alcatraz. This heavily fortified structure was completed in 1859.
In the course of the American Civil War, the defences of Alcatraz Island were a Union stronghold used to ward off the Confederates. It was also at this time that Alcatraz was first used as a prison, to house Confederate prisoners of war. This military prison continued to expand and was used throughout the late nineteenth century to hold, amongst others, Native American prisoners and those from the Spanish-American War. Over the years, the army kept building more prison sites on Alcatraz Island to hold the increasing number of inmates.
Alcatraz Island’s role as a site of imprisonment was cemented in August 1934. The US government had bought the site the year before and decided to use it as a federal prison, a function it would serve for twenty-nine years.
During this time, Alcatraz held some of the US’s most infamous criminals, including the gangsters Al Capone, Robert Stroud and George Kelly. Many inmates attempted to escape Alcatraz Island and, although no prisoners have “officially” escaped, one of the fourteen recorded attempts resulted in the disappearance of the escapees, Frank Morris and Clarence and John Anglin. Presumed drowned, their bodies have never been recovered.
Alcatraz Island is today managed by the National Parks Service and offers tours of the old prison. An eerie yet fascinating journey into the workings of this famous site, visitors to Alcatraz Island can make use of audio guides which chronicle its history (45 minutes). The visit usually lasts 2-3 hours. This site features as one of our Top 10 tourist Attractions in the United States.
The stunning Gothic Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia set a new standard in prison design and ideology when it opened in 1829, leaning on the principles of reform over punishment. Today the National Historic Landmark is a museum with year-round guided tours (and an audio guide narrated by Steve Buscemi!)Explore