(Sept. 25, 1893-May 5, 1966). Born in Indianapolis, the younger son of Josiah K. Lilly Sr. and Lilly Ridgely Lilly, “Joe” earned a pharmacy degree from the University of Michigan. He entered the family business, Eli Lilly And Company, in 1914 and focused on the fields of personnel and marketing.

On Oct. 15, 1914, Joe Lilly married Ruth Marie Brinkmeyer. They had two children, Ruth Lilly and Josiah Kirby Lilly III. Joe Lilly purchased Oldfields from Indianapolis banker Hugh McKennan Landon in December 1932. The estate included a French chateau-style home and gardens designed by Percival Gallagher, an associate of the Olmstead Brothers, the famed landscape architect firm. Ruth and Joe Lilly maintained Oldfields as their primary residence. In 1934, he began acquiring land northwest of Indianapolis that eventually totaled 3,469 acres and included a private residential retreat, a 1,000-acre forest in which he planted thousands of trees over a 20-year period, and a 1,000-acre farm.

During his more than 50 years with Eli Lilly and Company, Joe Lilly did much to reorganize the firm internally, with increased efficiency and improved business procedures as tangible results. Shortly after joining the company, he wrote a lengthy report on the subject of employment practices, which established the groundwork for the company’s personnel philosophies and practices: fair wages, reasonable hours, favorable working conditions, and good benefits. He stressed the importance of the human side of business. He also formed a sales research department, and inaugurated sales training courses at regular intervals.

In 1937, Lilly became one of the founders of Lilly Endowment, Inc. (LEI). The Tax Revenue Act of 1935 that went into effect in January 1936 caused a marked increase in estate taxes, especially for fortunes over $50 million. Joe, along with his father J. K. Sr. and his brother Eli Lilly, formed the Endowment to solidify “the family hold of the ancestral business” and to create a foundation that would link the Lilly “name to a great benefaction for generations.” Joe Lilly became the Endowment’s first vice president. Over the course of his life, he donated an estimated $6 million to the foundation.

In 1944, after serving as vice president in the marketing area and then executive vice president of the company, he was named president of the newly formed Eli Lilly International Corporation, a position he held until becoming president of Eli Lilly and Company in 1948.

At the same time he was attaining business success, Joe Lilly found time to devote to many personal interests. From his childhood love of books, Lilly developed an interest in collecting first editions and manuscripts. Eventually, he amassed a superb collection of rare books, which he later donated to Indiana University (IU). He also collected a set of miniature soldiers representing every regiment that ever served in the United States armies up to 1900, with accurate uniforms, flags, insignia, and arms.

Other hobbies included collecting gold coins, stamps, firearms, 18th century paintings, and early automobiles. After his retirement in 1953, his hobbies occupied most of his time, and he built a special house where he could retreat and spend his days with all the treasures he loved.

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In 1960, J.K. Lilly Jr. (center) joins IU President Herman B Wells (right) in opening the doors to the newly constructed Lilly Library. Credit: Lilly Library, Indiana University View Source

Joe retired from Eli Lilly and Company in 1953 but remained as chairman of the board until his death. He turned most of his attention to his hobbies and provided the money to build the Lilly Library on the IU Bloomington campus to hold his rare books and manuscripts. He donated the entirety of these collections to IU between 1954 and 1957. In 1956, the New York Times estimated the value of the rare book and manuscript collection to be $5 million (around $49 million in 2021). They formed the core of Lilly Library’s holdings. The library was dedicated on October 3, 1960. During this same period, Lilly Endowment funded projects connected to Joe’s special interests, including grants to the Lilly Library, and to the creation of the Bibliography of American Literature (1955-1981).

In the mid-1950s, Joe also donated the land that he had acquired on the northwest side of Indianapolis to Purdue University. A decade later the city of Indianapolis purchased the property to develop what is now Eagle Creek Park.

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Lilly Library at Indiana University Credit: Lilly Library, Indiana University View Source

Following Joe Lilly’s death in 1966, J. K. Lilly III took his father’s antique firearms, automobiles, and miniature soldier collection from Oldfields to his home in Sandwich, Massachusetts. J. K. III hired New England architect Merton Barrows and landscape architect Philip Ansell to design buildings and grounds to showcase the collections. On June 15, 1969, Heritage Museums and Gardens opened as a museum. The museum is known for Joe Lilly’s collections and as a horticultural destination.

At this time, J. K. III and his sister Ruth also donated Oldfields to the Art Association Of Indianapolis to be used as the site of a new museum. The Indianapolis Museum of Art opened on the property on October 25, 1970. It became known as Newfields in 2017.

Revised February 2021
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