The district dates back to the Landratsamt Saalfeld, which was created in 1868, and in 1922 it was converted into the Landkreis. Also in 1922 the district Rudolstadt was created. Both districts were merged in the local government changes of 1994.
As Saalfeld was the capital of the duchy Saxony-Saalfeld, the Saxon coat of arms is displayed in the top-right and bottom-left quarter of the coat of arms. The other two quarters show the coat of arms of the Princes of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt. The double-headed imperial eagle is the symbol for the title as imperial prince, the comb in bottom shows that the princes were also Imperial Stable Masters.