Cara Parks is the deputy managing editor of Foreign Policy.
Few things can alter a society as radically as the discovery of oil, and few places prove this as vividly as the Gulf states. The economy of Kuwait, for example, depended historically on its natural harbor in the Persian Gulf, which linked it to the thriving pearl trade and allowed for the flourishing of other maritime enterprises. But that was before oil was discovered in the region in 1938. After the interruption of World War II, Kuwait's economy underwent a massive transformation. Oil revenue flowing into Kuwait City tripled from 1951 to 1952, and then tripled again from 1952 to 1953.
A leading player in the rush to develop the oil fields of Kuwait was the U.S. company Bechtel, an engineering firm now ranked as the fifth-largest privately owned company in the world. In the 1940s and '50s, Bechtel was responsible for many of the construction projects throughout the Gulf region. One employee of the company, Francis Hadden Andrus, kept an album of photographs he took in Kuwait around 195o, which were digitzed by David C. Foster. The following photos — all taken from Andrus's beautiful collection of images — show a society on the brink of change, in which Studebakers shared the roads with camels.