The firm of boat builders and leisure boat proprietors, was established in 1858 by two Wesleyan brothers, John Salter (1826-1890) and Stephen Salter (1834-1937) who took over Kings Boat Yard at Folly Bridge. For a time they later had a second yard at Eton. Their father James Salter (1790s?-1839?) had been a publican and boat builder, originally at Parsons Green and then across the Thames at Wandsworth at the time when boat racing was becoming popular. In 1858 they moved to Oxford which was a better location for such a business. Boats built by Salters ranged from those used in the University Boat Race to cabin cruisers and passenger boats, some of which they themselves operated on the Thames.
In the next generation three of John Salter's sons entered the business – John Henry Salter (1854-1930), mayor of Oxford 1902-3, James Edward Salter (1857-1937), mayor 1909-10, and George Stephen Salter (1859-1965). The firm became Salter Bros. and later a limited company. Under the influence of their housekeeper, Harriet Long, they became Wesleyans at Wesley Memorial Church, although they do not seem to have become active office holders until H.P. Hughes became its minister in 1881. John, a local preacher, took part in the 1920s in the early negotiations leading to Methodist Union. James played a leading role in establishing the YMCA in the town. Liberals in politics, John was Mayor in 1902 and James in 1909. A cousin Stephen Salter (1861-1954) became an Oxford architect and his buildings include Wesley Hall WM, Cowley Road (1904).
Of James Edward Salter's sons, George Herbert Salter (1884-1970), born on 17 January 1881, became an Anglican priest. Frank Salter (1885-1956) remained a Wesleyan and worked in the family business. The eldest brother, [James] Arthur Salter (1881-1975), lost his religious faith. Educated at Oxford City High School and Brasenose College, in 1904 he became a civil servant with a specialist interest in maritime issues. From 1930 he worked as a journalist and author, and then in 1934 was appointed the University Gladstone Professor of Political Theory and Institution. From 1937 to 1950 he was the University's Independent Member of Parliament and from 1951 to 1953 represented Ormsksirk as a Conservative. A Privy Counsellor from 1941, he was appointed in 1939 Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Shipping; Deputy General of the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, 1944; Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, 1945; Minister of State for Economic Affairs, 1951. Knighted in 1922, he was raised to the peerage in 1953. Their cousin Dorothy E. Salter (1898-2001) in 1925 married A.B. Sackett (1893-1977), the future headmaster of Kingswood School.