Titus Salt, the son of Daniel Salt, a woolstapler, was born in Morley near Leeds on 20th September, 1803. Daniel Salt was a fairly successful businessman and was able to afford to send Titus to Heath Grammar School. After working for two years at a Wakefield woolstapler, Titus joined the family firm in 1824. Titus, who married Caroline Whitlam in 1830, became the firm's wool buyer. Daniel Salt & Son prospered and became one of the most important textile companies in Bradford.
When Daniel Salt retired in 1833, Titus took over the running of the company. Over the next twenty years Titus Salt became the largest employer in Bradford. Between 1801 and 1851 the population of Bradford grew from 13,000 to 104,000. With over 200 factory chimneys continually churning out black, sulphurous smoke, Bradford gained the reputation of being the most polluted town in England. Bradford's sewage was dumped into the River Beck. As people also obtained their drinking water from the river, this created serious health problems. There were regular outbreaks of cholera and typhoid, and only 30% of children born to textile workers reached the age of fifteen. Life expectancy, of just over eighteen years, was one of the lowest in the country.
George Weerth visited Bradford in 1846: "Every other factory town in England is a paradise in comparison to this hole. In Manchester the air lies like lead upon you; in Birmingham it is just as if you were sitting with your nose in a stove pipe; in Leeds you have to cough with the dust and the stink as if you had swallowed a pound of Cayenne pepper in one go - but you can put up with all that. In Bradford, however, you think you have been lodged with the devil incarnate. If anyone wants to feel how a poor sinner is tormented in Purgatory, let him travel to Bradford."
Titus Salt, who now owned five textile mills in Bradford, was one of the few employers in the town who showed any concern for this problem. After much experimentation, Salt discovered that the Rodda Smoke Burner produced very little pollution. In 1842 he arranged for these burners to be used in all his factories.
In 1848 Salt became mayor of Bradford. He tried hard to persuade the council to pass a by-law that would force all factory owners in the town to use these new smoke burners. The other factory owners in Bradford were opposed to the idea. Most of them refused to accept that the smoke produced by their factories was damaging people's health.
When Titus Salt realised the council was unwilling to take action, he decided to move from Bradford. In 1850, Salt announced his plans to build a new industrial community called Saltaire at a nearby beauty spot on the banks of the River Aire. Saltaire, which was three miles from Bradford, took twenty years to build. At the centre of the village was Salt's textile mill. The mill was the largest and most modern in Europe. Noise in the factory was reduced by placing underground much of the shafting which drove the machinery. Large flues removed the dust and dirt from the factory floor. To ensure that the neighbourhood did not suffer from polluted air, the mill chimney was fitted with Rodda Smoke Burners.
Sam Kydd wrote in The Reynolds newspaper: "The site chosen for Saltaire is, in many ways, desirable. The scenery in the immediate neighbourhood is romantic, rural and beautiful. A better looking body of factory 'hands' than those in Saltaire I have not seen. They are far above the average of their class in Lancashire, and are considerably above the majority in Yorkshire."
At first Salt's 3,500 workers travelled to Saltaire from Bradford. However, during the next few years, 850 houses were built for his workers. Saltaire also had its own park, church, school, hospital, library and a whole range of different shops. The houses in Saltaire were far superior to those available in Bradford and other industrial towns. Fresh water was piped into each home from Saltaire's own 500,000 gallon reservoir. Gas was also laid on to provide lighting and heating. Unlike the people of Bradford, every family in Saltaire had its own outside lavatory. To encourage people to keep themselves clean, Salt also arranged for public baths and wash-houses to be built in Saltaire.
Titus Salt was also active in politics. Salt supported adult suffrage and did not believe that the 1832 Reform Act went far enough. In 1835 he was a founder of the Bradford Reform Association and publicly supported the Chartists. Disturbed by the growth of the Physical Force Chartists, Salt helped establish the United Reform Society, an attempt to unite middle and working class reformers.
Titus Salt was a severe critic of the 1834 Poor Law. He also supported the move to reduce working hours and was the first employer in the Bradford area to introduce the ten hour day. However, Salt held conservative views on some issues. He refused permission for his workers to join trade unions and disagreed with those like Richard Oastler and John Fielden who wanted Parliament to pass legislation on child labour. Salt employed young children in his factories and were totally opposed to the 1833 Factory Act that attempted to prevent children under the age of nine working in textile mills.
Salt gave his support to the Radical candidate in Bradford's parliamentary elections. However, at the request of the local Chamber of Commerce, Salt became a candidate in the 1859 General Election. Salt was elected but after two years in the House of Commons he resigned because of ill-health.
Titus Salt died on 29th December, 1876. Although he had been an extremely rich man, his family was horrified that his fortune was gone. It has been estimated that during his life he had given away over £500,000 to good causes. On his death The Bradford Observer commented: "Titus was perhaps the greatest captain of industry in England not only because he gathered thousands under him but also because, according to the light that was in him, he tried to care for all those thousands. We do not say that he succeeded in realising all his views or that it is possible to harmonise at present all relations between capital and labour. Upright in business, admirable in his private relations he came without seeking the honour to be admittedly the best representative of the employer class in this part of the country if not the whole kingdom."