On May 6, 1918 – exactly 100 years ago – Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, one of modern history's most inspirational leaders who envisioned and eventually transformed the future of the UAE, was born in Abu Dhabi's Qasr Al Hosn.

Named after his grandfather, Sheikh Zayed grew up in a family of leaders who dedicated their lives to the Emirati people and the improvement of the nation.

The youngest of four sons, he was born into a country where survival in the harsh desert environment was tough. 

In his youth, he extensively traveled to acquaint himself both with the country and his people.

In the heart of the desert, he lived among Bedouins, discovered the joys of falconry, and learned an appreciation of the land.

By the time the process of unification with the six neighboring emirates began in 1971, Sheikh Zayed had already served as the ruler's representative in Al Ain for 20 years and as ruler of Abu Dhabi from 1966. 

He was well-versed in both the needs of the people he served and how to go about addressing them.

When Abu Dhabi began exporting crude oil in the 1960s, the riches it brought helped fund schools, housing, transportation, hospitals, and roads, all under his vision and leadership.

As a man of peace, he promoted the virtues of compromise, reason, and dialogue, in a region troubled by crises and conflicts.

The enduring legacy of Sheikh Zayed, who was blessed with a generous heart, is celebrated to this day while his contributions and initiatives are a reflection of his rare skills as a true leader.

In August 2017, the President of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed, declared 2018 the Year of Zayed.

Here are 6 unknown facts about the man who built the UAE:

  1. Sheikh Zayed was named after his grandfather - Zayed the Great or Zayed the First - who ruled Abu Dhabi from 1855 to 1909
  2. In Al Ain, Baba Zayed worked with the local tribesmen to construct and restore the falaj, the traditional water supply
  3. He paid for construction and annual running costs of hundreds of schools, orphanages, and hospitals, in dozens of developing and third world nations
  4. Sheikh Zayed personally adopted more than 1,000 orphans since the early 1970s
  5. In just five years, between 1973 and 1977, he distributed over $1 billion to worthy causes
  6. In 2004, he passed away at the age of 86 and his burial place is found in the courtyard of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

WATCH: Sheikh Zayed in a vintage 1967 documentary about the UAE