In December 1921, Banting, along with Macleod and Best, had presented an early version of their work at the annual conference of the American Physiological Society, held in New Haven Connecticut that year. Macleod was the newly elected President of the Society. Sitting in the audience was Dr. George Clowes, the Director of Research at Eli Lilly, a drug company based in Indianapolis. Clowes immediately saw the promise of insulin. He contacted Macleod in New Haven and offered his company’s services in the mass production of insulin. Macleod, however, thought it was premature. He told Clowes that he would contact Eli Lilly when the time was right.
Eli Lilly and Company was founded in 1876, by a Civil War veteran, Colonel Eli Lilly. Eli Lilly had helped raise a unit for the Union Army among residents of Indianapolis, then fought with them in several battles in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. He was captured in December 1864, and spent the remaining 6 months of the war in a Confederate prisoner of war camp. After the war, he bought and tried to run a cotton plantation in Mississippi, but then gave it up when his pregnant wife died of malaria. He then owned a series of drug stores, before he sold out to start a business to supply local drug stores.
At the time, most medicines were prepared by a local pharmacist and these preparations were both notoriously inconsistent and ineffective. Eli Lilly founded the company with the idea of mass producing medicines that were effective. He was to pharmaceuticals what Henry Ford was to automobile manufacturing.
The Eli Lilly Company had a history of innovation. In the 1890’s they had built a mass production capsule manufacturing plant. By 1910, they made 112 million capsules for sale. This business grew rapidly. By 1919, they sold 650 million capsules. Local pharmacists had been hand filling capsules to standardize doses of drugs, but soon saw the advantage of purchasing prefilled capsules from Eli Lilly and reselling them to their customers. This innovation led to standardization of both doses and the active ingredients in drugs.