Eli Lilly and Company

One of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, Eli Lilly and Company sits on McCarty Street, where it has resided and grown for more than one hundred years. In 1876, after serving during the Civil War and failing at a series of other business ventures, Colonel Eli Lilly established his pharmaceutical enterprise in a minuscule brick building on Pearl Street. With a total of three employees including his son J. K. Lilly, Sr., “Colonel Eli” set out to bring scientific method to manufacturing medicinal remedies in a period when charlatans and frauds peddling patent medicines dominated the industry.

By 1890, J K. Lilly, Sr. assumed control of the growing company, which had relocated to McCarty Street after outgrowing its previous locations. Very much a family business, his two sons, Eli and J.K., Jr., soon joined him at what they sometimes called the “pill factory.” The company adopted modern, streamlined production and experimental research practices under the three Lilly men’s leadership. The company remained under the family’s private ownership until 1952 when the company went public. In 1953, the first non-family member, Eugene Beesley, became president of the business.

Medical Breakthroughs (1920-1965)

The Lilly Company played an important role in the development and manufacture of several important medical advances during the twentieth century. Until the 1920s, there was no effective treatment for diabetes mellitus, particularly Type 1 diabetes. Collaborating with three University of Toronto scientists, the company achieved the first successful large-scale production of insulin. In 1923, Lilly supplied the first commercially available insulin product in the United States, which helped save the lives of thousands and made the company a top-tier pharmaceutical manufacturer. During the 1940s and 1950s, the company manufactured several antibiotics, beginning with penicillin during World War II and later vancomycin and erythromycin. The company also became one of the chief producers of the Salk poliomyelitis vaccine, manufacturing 68 percent of the national supply in 1956. A polio outbreak in the early 1950s had crippled thousands in the United States, many of them children. By the 1960s, the number of U.S. polio cases had diminished dramatically.

New Challenges and Old-Fashioned Values (1965-present)

Eli Lilly and Company has experienced many of the same recent challenges as most pharmaceutical companies in the face of economic downturn and controversies over drug side effects. Corporate espionage has also proven a concern in recent years, causing companies like Lilly to increase security measures. Continuing the philanthropic tradition started by the Lilly family, the company supports humanitarian causes and activities throughout the local community, the state of Indiana, and around the world. In 2012, the company’s employees numbered nearly 38,000 in 17 countries, over one-fourth of whom work in Indianapolis. Lilly products are sold in approximately 125 countries. Today, the sight of the “Red Lilly”—the scarlet, looping logo of Eli Lilly and Company—is a familiar one in Indianapolis and around the world, seen anywhere from the zenith of corporate headquarters on Delaware Street to prescription bottles in a medicine cabinet.

Images

Lilly Co. HQ, 1999

Lilly Co. HQ, 1999

The world headquarters of Eli Lilly and Company covers several acres on the south side of Indianapolis. A museum space and a reconstructed facsimile of the original 1876 laboratory can be found on the north side of the Lilly campus. However, due to tight security, visiting Eli Lilly and Company can prove challenging and must be prearranged. Photo Credit: Eli Lilly and Company Archives View File Details Page

Colonel Eli Lilly, 1863

Colonel Eli Lilly, 1863

Mustachioed Colonel Eli Lilly seated to the right of Colonel George W. Jackson, the bearded gentleman, wearing their Union uniforms during the Civil War, ca. 1863. Photo Credit: Eli Lilly and Company Archives | Source: Eli Lilly and Company Archives View File Details Page

Eli Lilly, 1876

Eli Lilly, 1876

The pharmaceutical business on Pearl Street, which Colonel Eli Lilly established in 1876. A reproduction of the original 1876 Lilly laboratory is located onsite at the Eli Lilly and Company headquarters in Indianapolis. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons | Source: Wikimedia Commons View File Details Page

Earthquake Supplies

Earthquake Supplies

Lilly pharmaceuticals, including quinine and antiseptics, being loaded onto a train bound for San Francisco after the devastating earthquake in 1906. Lilly agreed that payment for the drugs could be arranged later. Following the 1906 quake, the company established a policy allowing for the free replacement of any drugs lost in a natural disaster. Photo Credit: Eli Lilly and Company Archives | Source: Eli Lilly and Company Archives View File Details Page

Production Line, 1923

Production Line, 1923

Female workers filling boxes of insulin using straight-line production at Eli Lilly and Company, 1923. Eli Lilly, Jr. implemented modern production practices, including streamlined manufacturing and quality assurance procedures. Photo Credit: Eli Lilly and Company Archives | Source: Eli Lilly and Company Archives View File Details Page

Iletin, 1920s

Iletin, 1920s

Eli Lilly and Company was the first company to sell insulin for the treatment of diabetes in the United States. Iletin, the name of Lilly™s insulin product, became available in 1923. Prior to this time, almost all cases of Type 1 diabetes, mostly occurring in children or youth adults, proved fatal. Photo Credit: National Museum of American History | Source: National Museum of American History View File Details Page

Polio - Iron Lung

Polio - Iron Lung

A paralyzed man in a negative pressure ventilator, 1950s, commonly known as an “iron lung.” This device enabled a patient with loss of muscle control to breathe. People infected with poliomyelitis, an acute viral infection, sometimes experienced paralysis and had to be placed in an iron lung. In 1955, Eli Lilly and Company and other pharmaceutical manufacturers mass-produced the Salk polio vaccine to help prevent future cases of polio-based paralysis. Photo Credit: Eli Lilly and Company Archives | Source: Eli Lilly and Company Archives View File Details Page

Drugs to Taiwan

Drugs to Taiwan

Lilly pharmaceuticals sent to Taiwan, 1970. The company provides disaster assistance and international relief efforts to developing countries, in addition to its other philanthropic work. Photo Credit: Eli Lilly and Company Archives | Source: Eli Lilly and Company Archives View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Brittany D. Kropf, “Eli Lilly and Company,” Discover Indiana, accessed November 21, 2017, http://indyhist.iupui.edu/items/show/17.
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