He was the son of Execestides. He first worked as a foreign trader, his poetical abilities had him lauded as one of the Seven Sages of Greece.
In the mid 590s BC he worked to promote renewed conflict against Cirrha over Salamis. In 594 BC he was made archon of Attica, in order to subdue the civil disorder that was rampant there. He introduced a set of ordinances, seisachtheia, that did much to improve conditions. His ordinances were such a success that he was given the task of rewriting the constitution, creating what was later called the Solonian Constitution.
After having his constitution accepted he left Athens for over ten years, travelling to Egypt, Cyprus and Lydia. According to the historian Herodotus of Halicarnassus, in Lydia he offended Croesus when he was asked "Who is the happiest man you have ever seen?", instead of complementing the king he said "I can speak of no one as happy until they are dead". It was recalling this story which, again according to Herodotus, saved Croesus from execution when his kingdom was overcome by Cyrus's invading Persians.
Two places in the United States bear the name of Solon, probably in honor of the above figure: