The Man Who Brought Travel To The Millions


As a Baptist preacher, he would walk thousands of miles and earned so little that he often worked in the dark to conserve candles and oil. After seeing the effects of drunkenness at an early age, Cook believed that alcohol abuse was one of the major roots of the many social problems in the Victoria era and would spend much of his time and talents supporting the Temperance movement in England for the rest of his life. In fact, Cook’s beginnings as a travel organizer would come about because of his temperance beliefs.

In 1841, he would arrange for a special train to take over 500 people from Leicester to Loughborough to attend a temperance meeting. For 1 shilling, passengers got round trip train travel, band entertainment, afternoon tea, and food. Then in 1845, he would organize his first railway excursion for profit, and the following year he would begin offering trips outside England to Scotland, a country that captivated Cook and would remain one of his favorite destinations. For many of his early passengers, this was their first time aboard a train and the furthest distance they’d ever traveled from their home. His trips kept getting bigger and in 1851, Thomas got the chance to organize railway travel and travel accommodations for people from the provinces to travel to London to attend the Great Exhibition orchestrated by Prince Albert. Thomas would transport over 150,000 people to London during the 6 months of the exhibition. This was one of the largest events in England and one of the largest movements of people within Britain!

Cook would rapidly expand operations, escorting tours throughout Europe, North America, and even led the first commercial tour around the world. But perhaps no destination was more sacred to Thomas than his tours to Egypt and the Middle East. Here Thomas could witness firsthand the Biblical lands he had read and preached about all his life, and spending time in the Holy Land was truly a realization of many of his dreams as a young man. Thomas Cook & Son would thrive and go on to become one of the largest travel agencies in the world. During Thomas’s life so much would change that would make travel faster, cheaper, and more comfortable than ever before. Improvements in the postal service, use of the steam engine, opening of the Suez canal, and the great expansion of the railways would make it possible for Thomas Cook to accomplish things that would not have been possible a generation before him.


Thomas was able to “organize travel as it was never organized before” and with the help of the railways and the steam engine, he was able to do it on a scale that would have never before been possible. Although not the first to come up with most of the ideas, Thomas would make things like travel vouchers, traveler’s cheques, and printed guidebooks common and widespread. Cook would use his talents as a printer to print travel advertisements, bulletins, magazines, guidebooks, and train timetables. In fact, Thomas Cook Continental Timetables would be published from 1873 to 2013 (last edition was published in August 2013) and were for many decades considered the bible for European train travelers.


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