Josiah K. Lilly Jr., an Indianapolis philanthropist, is famous for his family’s pharmaceutical company and for being a beneficiary to Indianapolis organizations. He was the last Lilly family member to run Eli Lilly and Company in Indianapolis downtown. Because of the success of the family business, the Lilly family had the ability to patronize much of Indianapolis culture, Indianapolis arts, Indianapolis education, and Indianapolis attractions. Their name is synonymous with the Circle City.
Josiah K. Lilly Jr. was born in Indianapolis in 1893. He was named for his father, Josiah K. Lilly Sr. The senior Josiah was born in Greencastle, Indiana to his father Eli Lilly, a meager pharmacists. The senior Josiah’s childhood was fraught with hardship. As his family moved from place to place, living in Mississippi for a stint so his father, Eli, could worked on a cotton plantation. After the death of his mother, he was sent back to Greencastle to live with his grandparents.
After recovering from grief, Eli Lilly moved with his son Josiah to Paris, Illinois, where he opened a new business, Eli Lilly and Company. The pair worked together to get the business of the ground and eventually moved its head quarters to Indianapolis. Josiah K. Lilly took over his father’s business after his death in 1898. Josiah K. Lilly Sr. had two sons, Eli Lilly Jr. and Josiah K. Lilly Jr. The senior Josiah inherited his father massive fortune after Eli senior died in 1989.
Josiah K. Lilly Sr. along with his two sons established the Lilly Endowment Fund in 1938 to honor of Eli Lilly Sr. The trio managed the fund for years before turning it into one of the largest nonprofit organizations in Indianapolis and across the country.
The junior Lilly boys attended fine Indianapolis schools before moving on to university. Josiah K. Lilly Jr. attended Michigan University where he studied at the school of pharmacy. He married Ruth Brinkmeyer in 1914 and fathered two children, Ruth Lilly and Josiah Kirby Lilly III. The family purchase the Oldfields estate in 1932. Though they kept a house in Massachusetts as well, the Oldfields estate, on what is now the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, became an admired spot by many Indianapolis people.
Josiah K. Lilly Jr. was an avid collector and loved literature. He had one of the most extensive libraries in the state filled with original prints, manuscripts and rare books. Some of his favorites included Hoosier authors such as Booth Tarkington and James Whitcomb Riley. In 1954, he donated his massive collection to the library at Indiana University. As a thank you, the library renamed itself Lilly Library. In addition to his fascination with rare books, Josiah Jr. had an affinity for stamps. His stamp collection is now owned by the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC as one of the most historic in the nation.
Upon his death in 1966, only one year after the death of his wife, his house was donated to the Art Association of Indianapolis. It is now a museum of the time that it was occupied by the famous Lilly family, with original furnishing used by the family.
The Lilly name permeates Indianapolis culture. The Lillys understood the value of creating a sustainable community through art and charity that would allow their business to continue to thrive. Because of that campus across Indiana and particularly in Indianapolis, such as Butler University and the University of Indianapolis, are smattered with the Lilly name.
In addition, the Lilly Endowment Fund is attached to nearly every Indianapolis event. It supports annual Indianapolis fairs and festivals such as the Broad Ripple Art Fair, the Talbot Street Art Fair, and the Penrod Art Fair. The Lillys are still beneficiaries to many Indy organizations such as the Indianapolis Art Center, the Indiana Repertory Theater, the Indiana State Museum and many many more.
Without the Lilly family, Indianapolis would be a much different community. Josiah K. Lilly Jr. is definitely a valued part of Indianapolis history. With them, we can count ourselves lucky to have had such big minded and big hearted folks feel so loyal to our home town.