Brief History of Alcatraz

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A History of Alcatraz In 1775 a Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala named a 22 acre island in the San Francisco Bay Isla de los Alcatraces, named after the pelicans that he found on the island (George 5). This name was Anglicized to Alcatraz and throughout the rest of history is known as Alcatraz. The island was unused until 1850 when President Fillmore set it aside for use by the military, mainly to protect the bay from possible attacks, especially because after the 1849 Gold Rush the population of San Francisco had skyrocketed. In 1853 a military fort was built on the island to defend the bay, and in 1861 when the American civil war began 124 guns were installed on the island (George 6,7). In August of 1861, Alcatraz became an official military prison, housing mainly secessionists (George 9). After the civil war ended Alcatraz was no longer needed to protect the harbor, and so turned its attention on holding prisoners and in 1907 Alcatraz was named the U.S. Army’s Pacific Branch Military Prison, and then in 1915 the name changed again to Pacific Branch, United States Disciplinary Barracks (George 13 14). During the Great Depression the crime rates in the U.S. greatly rose, and the government was looking for ways to stop crime. In 1933, U.S. Attorney General Homer S. Cummings proposed Alcatraz as a use to hold more dangerous and vicious criminals, as it was completely isolated and nearly totally escape proof (George 16 17). In 1933 ownership of the island was transferred form the War Department to the Department of Justice, and $263,000 was invested to convert the island into the U.S. Penitentiary. These investments included electronic metal detectors, four new guard towers, uncuttable steel cell doors, tear gas outlets, and complete fencing with barbed wire around the whole island (Presnall 21 22). Alcatraz was to be the highest security prison in the
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