Located in the San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz Island was originally explored by Juan Manuel de Ayala in 1775, a Spaniard, who named the island Isla de los Alcatraces, meaning ‘island of the pelicans’.
In the 1850s, the U.S army built a fortress to protect the San Franciscans from war, but it was never used, and instead became a military prison. In 1909, the fortress was pulled down and the new prison was built was by prisoners from the military penitentiary.
The government took control of the new prison in 1933, and ‘The Rock’ became a federal penitentiary for the most dangerous prisoners. Because the prison was on an island, it was near impossible to escape from, and therefore housed several notorious criminals from the outset.
Al Capone was a crime boss for just seven years before he was sent to prison. Born in 1899 in New York City, he joined the Five Points Gang when he was a teenager and became a bouncer at the gang’s brothels and nightclubs.
In 1917, Capone insulted a woman in the Harvard Inn on Coney Island. Her brother reacted badly to the insult and left Capone with his infamous scars. Capone hated the nickname that was given to him by the press, ‘Scarface’, and would always try to hide them in photographs. He was also known as ‘Big Fellow’ and ‘Snorky’.
He moved to Chicago in his twenties and became Johnny Torrio’s sidekick. Torrio was the head of a crime syndicate, supplying alcohol throughout the city. He retired after he and Capone were almost killed by one of George ‘Bugs’ Moran’s gunman.
Capone took over the business and expanded the simple bootlegging dealing into a multi-million dollar operation, with prostitution and gambling. He was making between $60 and $100 million a year.