The E 17 was the first of a series of electric locomotives for express service, which had a 1-D-1 wheel arrangement and were equipped with quill drives. It thus formed the basis for the E 18 with a top speed of 150 km/h and the E 19, which was produced in smaller numbers and had a top speed of 180 km/h, and each represented a milestone for its time.
After good experiences had already been made with the E 21 with the power transmission by means of a quill drive, this solution was also decided on for the new express locomotives to be developed. At 120 km/h, the maximum speed was in the range that the steam-powered express trains of the time also reached. The four double traction motors acted on drive wheels measuring 1,600 mm and achieved a total of 2,800 kW or a continuous 2,300 kW over an hour. The E 17 was primarily intended for medium express trains, but trains weighing 630 tonnes could also be pulled at 95 km/h on the flat.
The area of operation extended over southern Germany, the area then known as Central Germany and the Silesian routes. Since most of the 38 locomotives were saved to southern Germany shortly before the end of the war, the Bundesbahn subsequently received 26 units. Only a few pieces remained standing in the Soviet occupation zone or in Poland. From a total of three pieces in the later GDR, two were in the USSR until 1952 as reparations. After their return, these were refurbished into two operational locomotives together with the third locomotives. At the Bundesbahn, all E 17s were modernized in 1960/1961 and redesignated as class 117 in 1968. The last of them remained in service until 1980, while the two sisters had already been decommissioned by the Reichsbahn in 1968.