On August 11, 1934, the first civilian prisoners arrived at the new federal penitentiary, which would infamously become known as “The Rock.”
The high-security prison on Alcatraz Island, a short ferry ride from San Francisco, was meant to show the American public that the federal government was serious about fighting the swell in crime that the nation saw in the 1920s and 1930s.
U.S. Penitentiary Alcatraz continued to house criminals for nearly 30 years, before ultimately closing its doors in 1963.
The now notorious prison was designed to hold the most dangerous elements of the federal prison system, in particular prisoners who had shown violent behavior at other federal prisons or those who were likely to attempt escape.
Warden’s notebook page, with mug shot of Robert Stroud, aka “The Birdman of Alcatraz,” ca. 1942. (National Archives Identifier 296722)
One famous Alcatraz inmate Robert Stroud, the “Birdman of Alcatraz,” for example, had murdered a guard while serving time at another federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas. His violent record consequently earned himself a spot at The Rock.
Though the prison was built to hold 336 inmates, it never reached capacity during its 29 years of operation.
Of the more than 1,500 men who served time on Alcatraz, 36 attempted to escape the cell house in 14 unique escape attempts. None of these escape attempts was ever officially declared a success. Thirty-one men were either caught and returned to the prison or died in the midst of their escape. The remaining men were never captured, and their bodies were never found in San Francisco Bay, leaving them listed as “missing and presumed drowned.”
Keep reading at: Welcome to “The Rock” | Prologue: Pieces of History