Alcatraz’s Birthday: America’s Most Famous Prison Turns 80

Monday is the 80th anniversary of “opening day” at Alcatraz. Click through to see some of the prison's most infamous inmates.

19 photos
1/19
Getty Images
With some 1,576 criminals passing through its gates between 1934 and 1963, the island prison Alcatraz, off the coast of San Francisco, California, saw its fair share of undesirables. Of course, some were more notorious than others, having committed some of the most shocking crimes in United States history. August 11 marks the 80th anniversary of Alcatraz opening its doors -- take a look at some of the prison's most infamous residents.
2/19
AP
Alcatraz opened in the post-Prohibition, post Great Depression era. Mae Capone, wife of gangster and notorious bootlegger, Al Capone, is seen on her way to visit Capone at the hospital on Alcatraz Island, March 1, 1936. Al Capone left Alcatraz in January 6, 1939. He died January 25, 1947.
3/19
Getty Images
A larger-than-life gangster and colleague of Capone's, Jewish-American gangster Irving Wexler, aka Waxey Gordon, was convicted of income tax evasion in 1933. He was released, but later convicted of selling narcotics and sent to Alcatraz, where he died in 1952. This photo is circa 1933.
4/19
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Black smoke rises from a smoke stack of the facilities at Alcatraz island, also known as "The Rock," in the San Francisco Bay on October 12, 1933. The island was chosen by the U.S. attorney general to become the new federal penitentiary for dangerous criminals. The Rock, a remote island that would prohibit constant communication with the anyone beyond the prison walls, was a desirable spot to open the "superprison," according to the National Parks Service. Prior to opening the prison, the Island was home to the U.S. army's disciplinary barracks, but importing supplies became too costly during the Great Depression, causing it to close in 1934.
5/19
AFP/Getty Images
View of the Alcatraz island and penitentiary circa 1930s. Alcatraz Island was first called Alcatraces, Spanish for "seabird" or "strange bird," after the brown pelican seen in the area by Spanish explorers, according to the National Parks Service.
6/19
Getty Images
Convicted murderer Robert Stroud (1890 - 1963), circa 1950s. While in various prisons where he had been incarcerated since 1909, Stroud developed an interest in birds and wrote several books on the subject. He came to be known after his last prison transfer as the "Birdman of Alcatraz."
7/19
Getty Images
A police mug shot of American criminal Frank Lee Morris (born 1926), taken on his arrival at Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, January 20th 1960. In 1962, Morris, along with brothers John and Clarence Anglin, escaped after leaving dummies in their beds, digging their way out of their cells and jumping into the San Francisco Bay on a homemade raft. The three were never seen again and it remains uncertain whether any of them survived.
8/19
POST_ARCHIVE
A prison guard kneels by hole in Frank Morris' cell through which he and John and Clarence Anglin famously escaped. Prison officials report hole was dug with broken spoons. The three inmates constructed the fake human heads out of stolen objects, toilet paper, cardboard, cement chips, and human hair from the floor of the barbershop, and planted the heads as decoys in their beds the night of their escape, according to the National Parks Service.
9/19
Getty Images
Alcatraz Yard and prisoners, circa 1940.
10/19
AP
This photo provided by the Sundance Institute shows the infamous gangster James "Whitey" Bulger in a prisoner transfer photo from Alcatraz in 1959.
11/19
AP
A guard locks the solid metal sliding door of one of the solitary confinement cells at the federal prison for dangerous criminals on April 18, 1941.
12/19
Getty Images
A view of Alcatraz island taken from the industrial area with a guard tower, main cellhouse and skyline in the background, circa 1940.
13/19
100% Keystone
Victor Lustig, called "The Count," was a millionaire con man. Here he is on his way to Alcatraz Prison, In September 1935. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison, and died during his sentence, according to the Smithsonian.
14/19
AP
This is the cell of one of the several prisoners who have been permitted to do oil paintings at Alcatraz, shown March 16, 1956.
15/19
ASSOCIATED PRESS
San Francisco Police Chief William J. Quinn, Warden James A. Johnson, U.S. Attorney General Homer S. Cummings, and San Francisco Mayor Angelo Rossi, from left, inspect a cell block in the main building of what was then the brand new United States Penitentiary on Alcatraz Island on August 20, 1934.
16/19
AP
The main cell block where three cell tiers fill the huge room in Alcatraz, shown March 13, 1956. Decor has changed from traditional gray to a light pink.
17/19
AP
In this March 21, 1963 file photo, a line of handcuffed prisoners walk through the cell block as they are transferred to other prisons from Alcatraz. At dusk the island prison is often covered in fog, and the lamps on the grounds emit a ghostly glow.
18/19
AP
Adam Nordwall, 40, a Chippewa Indian, stands at the rail of the three-masted clipper Monte Cristo as it sails past Alcatraz on Nov. 9, 1969. Nordwall led a group of Indians in a proposal to purchase the Island for $24 in beads and cloth and suggested it be made into an Indian center. Nordwall hoped to make the proposal to San Francisco's Board of Supervisors and former President Nixon.
19/19
Getty Images
The Warden's House on Alcatraz Island, circa 1975. It was burned down by Native Americans during the Occupation of Alcatraz in 1970. On November 9, 1969, Richard Oakes, a Mohawk Indian, and a group of Indian supporters symbolically claimed the island for the Indian people. This symbolic gesture became a full-scale occupation and lasted until June 11, 1971.
Contact Us