History of Alcatraz
On any given day, you can find thousands wandering the island of Alcatraz and taking in its unique history. The cell house, now empty of the criminals who were once housed there, still carries remnants of the dark events to which these walls once bore witness. This is a journey into a dim part of the American past, and few walk away fully understanding.
The island received it name in 1775 when Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala chartered the San Francisco bay, and named this tiny speck of land La Isla de los Alcatraces, which translated to “island of the Pelicans.” The small uninhabited island had little to offer with its swift currents, minimal vegetation, and barren ground.
Seventy-two years later in 1874 the U.S. army took notice of Alcatraz also known as “The Rock” and of its strategic value as a military fortification. Topographical engineers began conducting geological surveys, and by 1853, U.S. army engineers had starting constructing a military fortress on the island, along with the pacific coast’s first operating lighthouse. In 1848, the discovery of gold along the American River in California brought shiploads of miners from around the world to the West Coast in search of the precious metal. As word spread around the globe of abundant wealth in California, the United States Government would invoke security measures to protect its land and mineral resources from seizure by other countries.
After several years of laborious construction and various armament expansions, Alcatraz was established as the United States western symbol of military strength.
The new military fortress featured long-range iron cannons and four massive 36,000- pound, 15-inch Rodman guns, which were capable of sinking mammoth hostile ships three miles away. The guns of Alcatraz could fire 6,949 pounds of iron shot in one barrage. Though the fortress would eventually fire only one 400-pound canon round at an unidentified ship, and...