The Kuwaitis came under the rule of the Al Sabah family in 1751, and about 1775 came into contact with the British, to whom they looked for support in maintaining a degree of autonomy within the Ottoman Empire.
The relationship was formalized by treaty in 1899 establishing a protectorate that lasted until 1961. Traditionally, Kuwaitis eked out a living from their inhospitable environment as traders and fishermen.
What wealth they had was in pearls taken from the Gulf. That changed with the discovery of oil in 1937.
Exploitation had to await the conclusion of World War II, but Kuwait´s economy took off, becoming the first of the super-rich Arab states.
In 1976, the government nationalized oil operations originally granted jointly to British Petroleum and Gulf Oil, and since then has expanded steadily its producing, processing, and marketing roles.
The protectorate ended in 1961. But with the withdrawal of the British, Kuwait came under immediate threat from neighboring Iraq, which claimed that before the arrival of the British the territory had been part of the Ottoman Empire administered from Baghdad. The swift return of British forces ended the immediate threat of a takeover, but not Iraqi claims.
Kuwait was admitted to the Arab League despite opposition from Iraq, which claimed that Kuwait was historically part of Iraqi territory.
Kuwait had been a generous contributor to the Palestinian cause and to the more radical Arab states. But with first the Iranian revolution and then the outbreak of war between Iraq and Iran, Kuwait became a target.
Since the threat came primarily from Iran and its sympathizers, Kuwait sided with Iraq (which previously had been hostile to Kuwait) and, although it remained non-belligerent, contributed billions of dollars and the use of Kuwaiti ports to the Iraqi war effort.