Eli Lilly was born in 1838 in Baltimore, Maryland. but grew up in Kentucky. In 1852 his family moved to Greencastle, Indiana. Before the Civil War, in 1864 , Lilly studied pharmacy at the Good Samaritan Pharmacy in Lafayette.
During the Civil War he achieved the rank of colonel. After the Civil war Eli moved to Mississippi and tried planting cotton for a living. In 1869 he opened a drug store in Paris, Illinois. By the mid 1870's Colonel Lilly moved his family back to Indianapolis. In 1876, at the age of 37, Colonel Eli Lilly opened a pharmaceutical manufacturing company on Pearl Street in Indianapolis.
Besides opening his business, Colonel Lilly was an involved citizen of Indianapolis. In 1879 Lilly proposed the idea for a water supply company to meet the needs of Indianapolis. The Indianapolis Water Company resulted from his ideas. The Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce was formed through the efforts of Colonel Lilly in 1890.
Colonel Lilly was also instrumental in raising funds for the Soldiers and Sailors monument to honor Hoosiers that died during the Civil War. The Civil War museum in the basement of the monument is named the Colonel Eli Lilly Civil War Museum that is found on the monument circle in downtown Indianapolis.
Colonel Eli Lilly died of cancer on June 6, 1898.