Eli Lilly (July 8, 1838 - June 6, 1898) was a soldier, pharmaceutical chemist, industrialist, and founder of the eponymous Eli Lilly and Company pharmaceutical corporation.
Lilly enlisted in the Union Army during the American Civil War, he recruited a company of men to serve with him, and was later promoted to colonel and given command of a force of cavalry. He was captured near the end of the war, and was held in a war prison until the war ended.
After the war he attempted to run a plantation in Mississippi but failed and returned to his pharmacy profession after the death of his wife.
After working in several pharmacies with partners he opened his own business in 1876.
His company was successful and he soon became wealthy after making numerous advances in medicines. Two of the early advances he pioneered was creating gelatin capsules to hold medicine and fruit flavoring for liquid medicines.
Eli Lilly & co. was the first pharmaceutical company of its kind; it staffed a dedicated research department and put in place numerous quality assurance measures. Using his wealth, Lilly engaged in numerous philanthropic pursuits and turned over his company's management to his son in 1890. He continued to engage in charity and civic advancement as his primary focus until his death from cancer.
The company he founded has grown to be one of the largest and most influential pharmaceutical corporations in the world, and the largest corporation in Indiana, offering key pharmaceutical products in almost every key therapeutic area.
Eli Lilly was born the son of Gustavus and Esther Lilly in Baltimore, Maryland on July 8, 1838. His family was of Swedish decent, and had moved to the low country of France before his great-grandparents immigrated to Maryland in 1789. His parents were second generation immigrants. The Lilly family moved to Kentucky while Lilly was a young child where he attended public school. His family moved again in 1852 to Greencastle, Indiana where he apprenticed to become a printer. In 1854, he served an apprenticeship under Henry Lawrence at the Good Samaritan Drug Store in Lafayette to become a chemist and pharmacist. His parents had him enrolled to study pharmacology at Methodist operated Asbury College (now Depauw University), and graduated after two years. Lilly became acquainted with Emily Lemen, the daughter of a Indianapolis merchant, and the couple was married in 1860 and purchased a home in the city. He opened his own small drug store in the city in 1861. Lilly grew up in a Methodist household, and his family was prohibitionist and anti-slavery, which was part of their motivation for moving to Indiana. He and his family were members of the Democratic party during his early life, but they became Republicans during the years leading up to the civil war.
Lilly enlisted in the Union Army at the start of the American Civil War and his first child, Josiah, was born in 1861 while he was away. He recruited the 18th Battery, Indiana Light Artillery among his classmates, friends, local merchants and farmers. His unit was known as the Lilly Battery and was part of the Lightning Brigade commanded by Col. John T. Wilder. Lilly was elected to serve as the captain of his unit from August 1862 until the winter of 1863. His only prior military experience had been in a Lafayette Indiana Legion unit and several of his artillerymen considered him too young and intemperate to command. Despite his initial inexperience, he became a competent artillery officer and his battery was instrumental in several important battles, including Hoover's Gap, Second Chattanooga, and Chickamauga. Lilly was promoted from the battery to become a colonel of cavalry. During a mission in the south, he was captured by Nathan B. Forrest in Alabama in 1864 and held in a Confederate war prison until the end of the war. As the war came to an end in 1865, he was paroled and returned home. His colonel's title stayed with him for the rest of his life, and his friends and family used it as a nickname for him. Lilly later served as chairman of the Grand Army of the Republic in 1893, a brotherhood of Civil War veterans. During his term he helped organize an event that brought thousands of veterans together in Indianapolis for a reunion.
After the war, Lilly attempted a new business venture and purchased a cotton plantation in Mississippi. He moved his family to their new home to live but the entire family was stricken with mosquito-born malaria, a common disease because of the regions humid climate. Although Lilly and his son recovered, his wife Emily died there on August 20, 1866. She was eight months pregnant with the couple’s second child at the time; their unborn son could not be saved and was stillborn.
In 1869, he left Indiana and opened a successful drug store in Paris, Illinois with a partner, Binford & Lilly. The business was profitable and allowed Lilly to save enough money to expand. He began to formulate a plan to create a medicinal wholesale company of his own and began laying out business plans. He returned to Indianapolis in 1873, believing the city to be a superior place for business. Upon his return, he opened a drug store with a new partner, called Johnson & Lilly. In 1876, he decided to branch out on his own and opened another drug store at 15 West Pearl Street, Indianapolis, on May 10.
Lilly’s Indianapolis store started with only 3 employees, including his 14-year-old son Josiah, and $1,400 in working capital. His first innovation was gelatin-coating for pills and capsules. Following on his experience of low-quality medicines used in the Civil War, Lilly committed himself to producing only high-quality prescription drugs, in contrast to the common and often ineffective patent medicines of the day. His products, which worked as advertised and gained a reputation for quality, began to become popular in the city. In his first year of business, sales reached $4,470 and by 1879, they had grown to $48,000. He hired his brother, James, to take over sales in 1878. Other family members were also employed by the growing company, his cousin Evan Lilly was hired as a bookkeeper; his grandsons Eli and Josiah were hired to run errands and other odd jobs. In 1881 he formally incoporated the company, naming it Eli Lilly and Company. By the late 1880s he was one of the areas leading businessmen with over one-hundred employees and $200,000 in annual sales.
Among the company’s innovations was fruit flavoring for medicines and sugarcoated pills making their medicines easier to take. His growing business led him to purchase additional facilities for research and production. He began to purchase a complex of buildings on McCarty Street in south Indianapolis, other buisnesses followed and the area began to develop into a major business area of the city. In 1890 he turned over his business to his son Josiah, who ran the company for the several decades. The 1890s were a tumultuous decade economically, but the company was able to survive and came out stronger than ever. In 1894 the company purchased a plant to be used solely for creating capsule. Several technological advances were achieved by the company, and the creation was automated. Over the next few years the company began to create tens of millions of capsules and pills annually. Eli Lilly and company was the first pharmaceutical company of its kind. At first Lilly was the company’s only researcher, but as his business grew, he created a laboratory and employed a department dedicated to creating new drugs. He hired his first scientist dedicated to research in 1886. Their methods of research were based on Lilly’s. He also insisted on quality assurance, and instituted mechanisms to ensure that the drugs being produced worked as advertised, had the correct combination of ingredients, and that only the correct dosage of medicines was contained in each pill. He was aware of the addictive and dangerous nature of some of his drugs, and also pioneered the concept of only giving such drugs to people who had first seen a physician to determine if they needed the medicine.
By the time of his partial retirement from his business, Lilly was a wealthy millionaire. He had been involved in civic affairs for several years and became increasingly philanthropic, granting funds to help charitable groups in the city. Working with a group of twenty-five other businessmen, he had begun sponsoring the Charity Organization Society in the late 1870s and soon became its primary patron. The organization was the forerunner of the United Way and worked to organized charitable organizations on a high level. It allowed the many organizations to easily interact and better help people in need by coordinating their efforts.
Lilly’s stated goals were to encourage economic growth and general development in Indianapolis. He attempted to achieve those goals by supporting local commercial organizations financially and through his personal advocacy and promotion. He first became active in local civics in 1879. He proposed the idea for a public water supply company to meet the needs of the city and the Indianapolis Water Company resulted from his ideas. The Commercial Club was founded by Lilly in 1890 and he was elected as its first president. The club was the primary vehicle for his city development goals and was a precursor to the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce. The group was instrumental in making numerous advances for the city, including city-wide paved streets, elevated railways to allow vehicles and people to pass beneath them, a city water company, and a city sewage system. The company’s were created through private and public investments and operated at low-cost, and in practice they belonged to customers of the company who slowly bought the companies back from its initial investors. The model was later followed in most parts of the state. The group also helped fund the creation of parks, monuments, and memorials. The group also successfully attracted investment from other businessmen and organizations to expand the city's growing industries. During the Panic of 1893, Lilly created a commission to help the poor who were adversely affected. His work with the commission led him to personally donate enough funds to create a children's hospital in Indianapolis to care the many of the children family's who had no money pay for normal medical care.
Lilly was an avid fisherman and built a family cottage on Lake Wawasee in 1887 where he enjoyed regular vacations and recreation. In 1892 he built the Wawasee Inn on the lake for commercial use. The site became a haven for the family, and his grandson later expanded the estate. His business continued to grow and by 1898 it had a product line of 2,005 items and annual sales over $300,000. Lilly had become friends with former Governor of Indiana Oliver P. Morton, and Morton suggested that Lilly use his Commerical Club to help advocate the creation of a memorial to Indiana’s many veterans of the Civil War. Taking the suggestion, Lilly began raising funds to build the Indiana Soldier and Sailor Monument. Construction began in 1888, but the monument was not completed until 1901. The interior of the monument houses a civil war museum which was later named in honor of Lilly. Lilly was often urged to seek public office by his friends, and they attempted to nominate to run for Governor of Indiana as a Republican in 1896, but he refused. He shunned public office, and wanted to instead focus his attention of his philanthropic organizations. He did regularly endorse candidates, and made substantial donations to politicians who advanced his causes. Lilly died in his Indianapolis home on June 6, 1898. His bier was held on June 9 and attended by thousands before he was moved to his burial site, a large sepulcher in Indianapolis’ Crown Hill Cemetery.
Following his death, Lilly's son Josiah inherited Eli Lilly and Company. He continued to grow the company before passing it on to his own sons, Eli Lilly and Josiah Lilly Jr. The three of them continued the philanthropy practiced by Lilly. The company played an important role in delivering medicine to the victims of the devastating 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. Lilly's greatest contributions were his standardized and methodical creation of drugs, his dedication to research and development, and the actual value of the drugs he created. He pioneered the modern pharmaceutical industry, and many of his innovations became standard practice in later years. His ethical reforms in a trade that was marked by ridiculous claims of miracle medicines brought considerable advances and began a period of rapid advancement in the development of medicinal drugs. Lilly and his company’s advocacy for federal regulation on medicines led to the Pure Food and Drug Law in 1906. The Colonel Eli Lilly Civil War Museum, located in the basement of the Indiana Sailor and Soldier Monument in Indianapolis is named in Lilly's honor. It opened in October 1999 and features exhibits about Indiana during the war period and the war in general.
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