History & Culture

Cellhouse menu for Christmas 1954.
Historic  Christmas 1954 menu for the Alcatraz prisoners

Park Archives and Records Center, GGNRA, NPS

The Fascinating History of Alcatraz Island

To those that only know the Hollywood version, the rich history of Alcatraz is surprising. Civil War fortress, infamous federal prison, bird sanctuary, first lighthouse on the West Coast, and the birthplace of the American Indian Red Power movement are just a few of the fascinating stories of the Rock. Alcatraz Island is a designated National Historic Landmark for its significant contribution to the nation's history.

The following links provide excellent sources for students working on an Alcatraz assignment as well as for those planning a visit and wanting to know more.
soldiers walking in front of concrete building


Learn about the military history (1850-1934), the federal penitentiary history (1934-1963) and perhaps the most influential even in the island's history - the American Indian occupation (1964 and 1969-1971) that saved the tribes and maybe the island too.

woman and soldiers in uniform sitting at base of building


Learn about some of the famous, and not so famous people associated with the Rock.

tarnished forks in a row


See items from the National Parks museum collection and to learn about other available research resources.

workers on roof of building near water


Learn how the National Park Service preserves and rehabilitates the island's buildings and structures for future generations.


For More Information:

To learn more in-depth historical information about Alcatraz, please download the National Park Service's Historic Resource Study titled "The Rock: A History of Alcatraz Island (1847-1972)." The Historic Resource Study has a companion document, that contains the appendices and the maps related to the island.

For more in-depth information about Alcatraz's historic buildings and cultural landscapes, please visit the Golden Gate National Recreation Area's Cultural Resource Publication page (scroll down to the Alcatraz documents.)

We also also compiled a lengthy list of internet links that provide you with additional Alcatraz information from various other sources.

Rodman cannons mounted on Alcatraz in the 1800s.
15 inch Rodman cannons (Model 1861 U.S. 15-inch Columbiad) on Alcatraz Island.

Last updated: February 28, 2017

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Mailing Address:

Alcatraz Island
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
B201 Fort Mason

San Francisco, CA 94123


(415) 561-4900

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