The 1500-metre run became a standard racing distance in Europe in the late 19th century, perhaps as a metric version of the mile, a popular running distance since at least the 1850s in English-speaking countries.
A distance of 1500 m sometimes is called the "metric mile".
The French had the first important races over the distance, holding their initial championship in 1888. When the Olympic games were revived in 1896, metric distances were run, including the 1500. However, most of the best milers in the world were absent, and the winning time of 4:33 1/5 by Australian Edwin Flack was almost 18 seconds slower than the amateur mile record, despite the fact the mile is 109 metres longer than the 1500 metres.
The 1900 Olympics and 1904 Olympics showed improvements in times run, but it was not until the 1908 Olympics that a meeting of the top milers over the distance took place, and not until the 1912 Olympics that a true world-class race over the distance was run.
The distance has now almost completely replaced the mile in major track meets.
1500 metres world record progression Wikipedia
The first world record in the 1,500 m for men (athletics) was recognized by the International Amateur Athletics Federation, now known as the International Association of Athletics Federations, in 1912.
To June 21, 2009, the IAAF has ratified 38 world records in the event.
+ - indicates record set during mile race. Ovett's 3:31.36 was initially ratified as 3:31.4 until times to the hundredths were recognized in 1981.
The first world record in the 1,500 m for women (athletics) was recognized by the International Amateur Athletics Federation, now known as the International Association of Athletics Federations, in 1967.
To June 21, 2009, the IAAF has ratified 13 world records in the event.
+ - En route time during mile race. The IAAF accepted records to the hundredth of a second starting in 1981.