In the first planning phase of standard electric locomotives, the Reichsbahn still thought of models with large motors and rod drive, but at that time there were already different approaches for single-axle drives elsewhere. Thus, five prototypes were ordered for delivery in the years 1926-1928, among which this locomotive was. It was first designated E 18 01, but later redesignated E 15 01. Its sisters in the trials were the E 16 101, E 21 01, E 21 02 and E 21 51.
In the search for the optimal axle arrangement, the use of two bogies was tested in the E 18 01. These each consisted of a leading axle with 1,000 mm wheels and two powered axles with 1,400 mm wheels, with the leading axle being movably mounted within the bogie by means of a bissel frame. A coupling between the bogies was used to better distribute the forces. Instead of the originally planned higher arrangement of the traction motors with reduction gear and quill, the drive was finally designed as a nose-suspended motor with a simple reduction gear. To cool the engines, two fans were housed in the engine room, each of which directed the air to the two powered axles of a bogie.
From the end of 1927, the test drives took place in Central Germany, especially on the Magdeburg-Halle route. The locomotive impressed with its smooth running and was able to meet its specification of pulling 600-tonne express trains on the flat at 95 km/h. From 1930 it was tested in heavy mountain use in Silesia, where it achieved monthly mileages of more than 10,000 km. The signs of wear on the chassis, which were first observed in the lowlands, increased, which ultimately led to the E 15 not being mass-produced.
Although the production locomotives of the E 17 with their 1-D-1 wheel arrangement that had already been produced in the meantime were more based on the E 16, the E 15 came back to Central Germany and continued to be used there. Since the new express locomotives of the 1930s were to be called E 18 in the future, based on the class 18 Länderbahn steam locomotives, road number E 18 01 was renamed E 15 01 in 1933. After the war it was sent to the Soviet Union as reparation, from where it returned to the GDR in 1952 together with many other locomotives, but due to its very poor condition it could no longer be used and was later scrapped.