Slats were first developed by Gustav Lachmann in 1918. A crash in August 1917, with a Rumpler C aeroplane on account of stalling caused the idea to be put in a concrete form, and a small wooden model was built in 1917 in Cologne. In 1918, Lachmann presented a patent for leading edge slats in Germany. However, the German patent office at first rejected it as the office did not believe in the possibility of increasing lift by dividing the wing.
Independently of Lachmann, Handley-Page Ltd in Great Britain also developed the slotted wing as a way to postpone stall by reducing the turbulence over the wing at high angles of attack, and applied for a patent in 1919; to avoid a patent challenge, they reached an ownership agreement with Lachmann. That year a De Havilland D.H.9 was fitted with slats and flown. Later a D.H.4 was modified as a monoplane with a large wing fitted with full span leading edge and back ailerons (i.e. what would later be called flaps) that could be deployed in conjunction with the leading edge slats to test improved low speed performance. Several years later, having subsequently taken employment at the Handley-Page aircraft company, Lachmann was responsible for a number of aircraft designs, including the Handley Page Hampden.
Licensing the design became one of the company's major sources of income in the 1920s. The original designs were in the form of a fixed slot in the front of the wing, a design that was found on a number of STOL aircraft.
During World War II German aircraft commonly fitted a more advanced version that pushed back flush against the wing by air pressure to reduce drag, popping out when the airflow decreased during slower flight. Notable slats of that time belonged to the German Fieseler Fi 156 Storch. These were similar in design to retractable slats, but were fixed non-retractable slots. The slotted wing allowed this aircraft to take off into a light wind in less than 45 m (150 ft), and land in 18 m (60 ft). Aircraft designed by the Messerschmitt company employed leading-edge slats as a general rule.