The city was first documented in 1214 under the name of Zolonta and in 1332 a Papal document used the name Zalanta. From 1587 the Hungarian spelling Szalonta was used.
Until the 16th century, it was only a small village of about 300 inhabitants and was on the land of the Toldi family. A bigger city was the fort of Culiser, which was however destroyed by the Turks in 1598.
Culiser was never rebuilt and Salonta began to have a more important role in the region after 1606, when the prince of Transylvania, Stephan Bocskai settled 300 soldiers here and appropriated land for them. They built their own farms, but had to keep their arms ready to repel an attack by the Turks. 3 June, the day in which the soldiers were settled, is nowadays declared "the day of the city". However, Ottoman Turks captured the town in 1660 and as "Salanta", it became the sanjak center of Varat vilayet until 1692.
Renowned Hungarian 19th Century poet, János Arany, was born and lived in Salonta for most of his life. Lajos Zilahy, another noted Hungarian author, was also born in Salonta on 27 March 1891.
As of the Treaty of Trianon in 1920, Salonta became part of Romania with whole Transylvania as well except Hungarian occupation between 1940-1944 during World War II.
Salonta is famous nationwide for its Salam de Salonta sausage products that have been produced since the 1970s. Most of the state-owned factories built during the communist period went into bankruptcy since 1989. During the 2000s however, there has been a considerable foreign direct investment in small factories and assembly plants - particularly in the clothing industry.
In 2008, Arvin Meritor - a large automotive multinational - started production at its Salonta facility, the only one the company has in Romania and one in only five throughout Central and Eastern Europe. Arvin Meritor produces cables and latches and other car parts at the Salonta facility.
The city of Salonta was the host for the 2006 Romanian National Gliders Championship (Campionat naţional de aeromodelism) and its team, Metalul Salonta, has won the championship several times.