Alcatraz Lesson for Kids: History & Facts

Instructor: Casey Krone
Imagine swimming over a mile across shark-infested and frigid waters to escape from a prison! That's what over 36 different inmates at the famous Alcatraz prison attempted to do over many different years. The prison had a long and interesting history before it closed its doors in 1963.

Early Use of Alcatraz

Before Alcatraz could be used to house inmates, like Al Capone, it had an interesting history dating back to the 1850's when President Millard Fillmore ordered that Alcatraz Island, located in the San Francisco Bay, be used for military purposes. Shortly after, a fortress was constructed. A fortress is a place meant to protect against attack. By the late 1850's, the United States military started holding prisoners on the island. At the time, people assumed that no one could escape this prison. During the early 1900's, inmates were used to help construct a cell block. These prisoners also helped build a hospital on the island.

Alcatraz
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Alcatraz Becomes a Federal Prison

The Army surrendered military control of the prison in 1933, and the US Justice Department decided to house prisoners here that were seen as too dangerous for other US prisons to handle. When the prison first opened in 1934, there was one guard hired for every three prisoners, and each prisoner was assigned their own cell. Around 260 prisoners were held here at any given time. If prisoners were able to follow rules in Alcatraz, they were sometimes allowed to be transferred to other prisons.

Famous Inmates

There are many famous inmates who once served sentences at Alcatraz, including Robert Stroud, who served 17 years at Alcatraz. He gained the nickname 'Birdman' due the birds he was allowed to keep at a prison named Leavenworth where he served 30 years before being transferred to Alcatraz. Another famous inmate was George Kelly, who had been given the nickname 'Machine Gun.' He also served 17 years at Alcatraz. Alvin Karpowicz served the longest sentence of over 25 years.

One final well-known inmate, was Al Capone, a famous gangster who spent over four years at Alcatraz. He was transferred from a prison in Georgia, because it was so remote on Alcatraz, that he couldn't maintain contact with anyone off the island to continue operating his criminal operation. The prison was remote because it was far from a main population.

The famous inmates of Alcatraz.
famous alcatraz inmates

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