Originally, South Salt Lake was made up of three distinct unincorporated areas: Millcreek to the north, Central Park (which was the area between 300 East and State Street and 2700 to 3000 South) and Southgate to the south. In 1936 Central Park incorporated as its own town.
In the late 1930s the area was greatly in need of a sanitation system since at the time most of the area was using septic tanks or open cesspools which drained into local creeks. Salt Lake City agreed to annex the area to help with the problem, but gave no specific date to give them a sewer system. In 1936 several area businessmen formed the South Salt Lake Businessmen's Association to address the problem, deciding to put the issue of incorporation to a vote. Against strong opposition, the vote passed on September 28, 1938. The sewer was built for $462,000 using mostly pick axes and shovels.
In the 1990s, South Salt Lake annexed portions of Millcreek, an unincorporated area to the south, and nearly doubled in land area, and, as a result, population. The fate of Millcreek has been actively discussed in recent years, with incorporation as well as a merger with South Salt Lake under consideration. The city’s commercial and industrial base would complement Millcreek’s heavily residential character, and the amalgamated city, which could relinquish the name “South Salt Lake” in favor of “Millcreek”, would have a population of over 80,000.
The current mayor is Cherie Wood.
In 2012, a Chinatown development started to open businesses on a lot in the city. It will be the only Chinatown in the Intermountain West. Currently there are three Chinese restaurants, a gift shop, a martial arts facility, and an Asian convenience store operating, while construction has begun on a large Chinese supermarket on the property.