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The name Alcatraz is an English adaptation from the original Spanish name "La Isla de los Alcatraces" (Island of the Pelicans) given by Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala in 1775. Alcatraz Island has been a government property ever since California became part of the United States in 1848. First used as a military fort to protect the San Francisco Bay, by 1870 it was being used as a long term detention facility.

Alcatraz 1895 Alcatraz in 1895

Alcatraz was officially designated a Military Prison in 1907 and operated as such until 1934 when it was transferred to the Dept of Justice to be used as a Federal Prison. For almost 30 years, Alcatraz incarcerated some of the worst federal criminals in America until the prison was closed in 1963 because of disrepair and it's 3X cost to operate compared to other prisons.

Alcatraz came to light again in 1969 when a group of Native Americans tried to claim ownership of the island and occupied it along with supporters for 18 months before being forced off by the Government. In 1972 Alcatraz Island was included into the National Parks Service and a year later was open for public tours, now attracting about one million visitors a year.