More than one million people from many different countries visit Alcatraz each year to see the famous federal prison where criminals such as Al Capone, Robert Stroud (the "Birdman of Alcatraz"), George "Machine Gun" Kelly, and Alvin Karpis were confined. Alcatraz was a federal prison from 1934 until 1963 and Karpis is known for being the criminal who served more time in Alcatraz than any other inmate. Previous to being a federal prison, Alcatraz was a military prison from 1861 to 1868 and a military fortification during World War II. But after being established as a federal prison, Alcatraz was designed to confine the worst troublemakers from other federal prisons.
During its entire time as a federal prison, officials claimed that no prisoner had ever escaped successfully. According to prison records, 36 prisoners made 14 escape attempts, 23 were captured, 6 were killed during their escape attempts, two drowned in the bay and 5 were listed as missing and presumed drowned. The most violent prison escape attempt occurred on May 2, 1946, in the Battle of Alcatraz in which two guards and three prisoners died. The most controversial escape attempt was led by Frank Lee Morris in 1962 because for many years the outcome was debated in the media. But in 1979 the FBI concluded that the men had drowned in the ice-cold water of the San Francisco Bay.
In 1972 the Golden Gate National Recreation Area was established by the U.S. Congress and Alcatraz Island was included as a new National Park. In 1976 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and in 1986 it was officially designated as a National Historic Landmark. After being opened to the public in 1973, Alcatraz soon became one of San Francisco’s popular tourist attractions. In 1969 United Indians of All Tribes, a group of Native Americans who were mostly San Francisco college students, occupied Alcatraz for more than 19 months and the story was publicized in the national media after other activists from the American Indian Movement joined them. This entire event entitled "We Are Still Here" is explained by a permanent multimedia exhibit that was opened on Alcatraz in 2001.
The only way to reach Alcatraz Island is by ferry from Pier 33 near Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco via Alcatraz Cruises, a private ferry company that operates under a contract with the National Park Service. It’s about a 15 minute ferry ride and the return ferry ride is approximately every 45 minutes. Schedules for the ferries are posted throughout Alcatraz.