(Nov. 18, 1861-Feb. 8, 1948). Son of COL. ELI LILLY and his first wife Emily Lemon Lilly, Josiah Kirby (J. K.) Lilly Sr. was only 5 years old when his mother died. Maria Cynthia Sloan became his stepmother, three years later, in 1869. When his father founded Eli Lilly And Company in Indianapolis in 1876, he was 14 years old.

J. K. joined his father to learn the pharmacy trade through apprenticeship and, after resolving to make pharmaceutical manufacturing his lifework, entered the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy. He graduated cum laude in 1882. That same year, he married Lilly Ridgely of Lexington, Kentucky. The couple had two children, Eli Lilly, born on April 1, 1885; and Josiah Kirby Jr., born on September 25, 1893. Living first in a house on what is now Capitol Avenue then on North Pennsylvania Street, the family eventually moved to 20 acres in Crows Nest and also maintained a cottage at Lake Wawasee, in Kosciusko County.

When Lilly returned to Indianapolis with his new wife, he became superintendent of Eli Lilly and Company. In the early 1880s, he introduced a treatment for venereal diseases, types of rheumatism, and skin diseases, which was the company’s first widely successful product. He added new employees and was responsible for moving the company from its first location on Pearl Street to larger quarters at McCarty and Alabama streets. When his father Col. Eli turned his attention to civic affairs in the early 1890s, J. K. took over running the business. By this time, the company already was one of the largest in Indiana. With his father’s death in 1898, he became president of the firm.

As Eli Lilly and Company’s president, Lilly was responsible for introducing scientific research into the pharmaceutical manufacturer’s operations. He established a scientific department in 1912. By 1918, the department had accomplished little, and J. K. began discussions about investing more in research and envisioned a laboratory where scientists could work to produce truly efficacious drugs.

He made a key hire in 1919, bringing George Henry Alexander Clowes, a respected biochemist born in Ipswich, England, to Eli Lilly and Company to carry out his ambitious goals. Late in 1921, Clowes learned of Frederick G. Banting, John R. Macleod, and Charles H. Best’s discovery of insulin at the University of Toronto. When Clowes approached J. K. about the possibility of collaborating on the production of the pancreatic extract, he understood its importance and signed a contract with the university to make insulin commercially available worldwide.

Insulin production was one of two ventures that Eli Lilly and Company was involved in during J. K. Lilly’s presidency of the company connected to Nobel Prizes in Medicine. MacLeod and Banting won the prize in 1923. In 1928, the company introduced a liver extract used to treat pernicious anemia, which served as the standard treatment for the disease for decades. Lilly was especially interested in the development of this product as his wife suffered from the disease. This time, Lilly collaborated with George H. Whipple, a research scientist at the University of Rochester, and George R. Minot and William P. Murphy, professors at the Harvard Medical School. The three men shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1934 for their work. With these successes, Eli Lilly and Company had total aggregate sales of over $171 million dollars during the 1930s, despite the Great Depression.

Eli Lilly and Company’s development of the liver extract for pernicious anemia, however, did not save Lilly Ridgely Lilly. She succumbed to the disease on April 19, 1934. In 1935, J. K. Lilly married Lila Allison Humes, the older sister of his son Eli’s second wife Ruth Allison Lilly.

J. K. Lilly’s way of business and his way of life reflected a creed of civic involvement and charity. “Every man should, in addition to his endeavors for personal and family gain and comfort, unselfishly perform some duties as a citizen for the community in which he and others live, move, and have their beings,” he once wrote. He was active in the Indianapolis Commercial Club, the Ymca, Red Cross, the Indianapolis Foundation, Crown Hill Cemetery, James Whitcomb Riley Memorial Association, and the Christ Church Cathedral. He also served as a trustee for the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Purdue University and was a founder of the Purdue Research Foundation.

In 1937, J. K. Lilly Sr. established Lilly Endowment, Inc. (LEI) with his two sons Eli and J. K. Jr. The Tax Revenue Act of 1935 that went into effect in January 1936 caused a marked increase in taxes, especially for those with fortunes above $50 million. In response, the trio formed the Endowment, to rivet “the family hold of the ancestral business” and to create a foundation that would link the Lilly “name to a great benefaction for generations.” J. K. Sr. served as president of the Endowment until his death.

As he grew older, fondness for the melodies of Stephen Foster, often considered the first professional songwriter in the U.S., stirred in him an interest to collect memorabilia on the composer. In 1937, J. K. presented his collection, which contains more than 10,000 items, to the University of Pittsburgh because Foster was a Pittsburgh native and had composed most of his works there. The Foster Collection became the core collection of the university’s Center for American Music, which has grown to be one of the “major collections for 19th -century American culture, and American culture, in general.”

J. K. Lilly’s will included a bequest of Eli Lilly and Company Stock worth $86.8 million in 1948 (over $937.2 million in 2020). It remains the largest individual gift ever made to the fund. The bequest nearly quadrupled the Endowment’s assets, from $9 million to $39 million, making it a major U.S. private foundation. Since then, it has grown to be one of the largest private foundations in the world.

In the mid-1960s, the Lilly family donated to Park School for boys the property at 71 Street and College Avenue that J. K. Lilly had purchased to establish an orchard and on which he had a Tudor-revival–style structure built to house the Stephen Foster Collection. Park School later became Park Tudor School, and its campus continues to develop there.

Revised June 2021

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