Thomas Cook

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This article is about the travel entrepreneur. For other uses, see Thomas Cook (disambiguation).
Thomas Cook
Born (1808-11-23)23 November 1808
Melbourne, Derbyshire, England, UK
Died 18 July 1892(1892-07-18) (aged 83)
Nationality British
Organization Thomas Cook & Son
Religion Baptist

Thomas Cook (22 November 1808 – 18 July 1892) of Melbourne, Derbyshire, England founded the travel agency Thomas Cook & Son (popularly nicknamed Cook's Tours) that became Thomas Cook AG before eventually becoming Thomas Cook Group plc in 2007.


Thomas Cook was born to John and Elizabeth Cook, who lived at 9 Quick Close in the village of Melbourne, Derbyshire.[1]

The couple's first child, he was named after Elizabeth's father, Thomas Perkins. John Cook died when Thomas was three years old, and his mother remarried later that same year.

At the age of 10, Cook started working as an assistant to a local market gardener for a wage of six pence a week. At the age of 14, he secured an apprenticeship with John Pegg, and spent five years as a cabinet maker.[1]

He was brought up as a strict Baptist. In February 1826, Cook became a Baptist missionary, and toured the region as a village evangelist, distributing pamphlets and occasionally working as a cabinet maker to earn money.[1]

In 1832, Cook moved to Adam and Eve Street in Market Harborough. Influenced by the local Baptist minister Francis Beardsall, he took the temperance pledge on New Year's Day in 1833. As a part of the temperance movement, he organised meetings and held anti-liquor processions.[1]

On 2 March 1833, Cook married Marianne Mason. John Mason Cook, their only son, was born on 13 January 1834.[1] Thomas Cook died on 18 July 1892, having been afflicted with blindness in his declining years.[2]

Cook's first excursions[edit]

Panels from the Thomas Cook Building in Leicester, displaying excursions offered by Thomas Cook

Cook's idea to offer excursions came to him while "walking from Market Harborough to Leicester to attend a meeting of the Temperance Society".[3] With the opening of the extended Midland Counties Railway, he arranged to take a group of temperance campaigners from Leicester Campbell Street railway station to a teetotal rally in Loughborough, eleven miles away. On 5 July 1841, Thomas Cook escorted around 500 people, who paid one shilling each for the return train journey, on his first excursion. During the following three summers he planned and conducted outings for local temperance societies and Sunday school children.

On 4 August 1845 he arranged for a party to travel from Leicester to Liverpool. In 1846, he took 350 people from Leicester on a tour of Scotland. In 1851 he arranged for 150,000 people to travel to the Great Exhibition in London. Four years later, he planned his first excursion abroad, when he took two groups on a 'grand circular tour' of Belgium, Germany and France, ending in Paris for the Exhibition. During the 1860s he took parties to Switzerland, Italy, Egypt and United States.

Thomas Cook & Son[edit]

Nile cruise poster from 1922

In 1872, he formed a partnership with his son, John Mason Cook, and renamed the travel agency as Thomas Cook & Son.[2] They acquired business premises on Fleet Street, London. The office also contained a shop which sold essential travel accessories, including guide books, luggage, telescopes and footwear. Thomas saw his venture as both religious and social service; his son provided the commercial expertise that allowed the company to expand.

In accordance with his beliefs, he and his wife also ran a small temperance hotel above the office. Their business model was refined by the introduction of the 'hotel coupon' in 1868. Detachable coupons in a counterfoil book were issued to the traveller. These were valid for either a restaurant meal or an overnight hotel stay provided they were on Cook's list.

Conflicts of interest between father and son were resolved when the son persuaded his father, Thomas Cook, to retire at the end of 1878. He moved back to Leicester and lived quietly until his death.

The firm's growth was consolidated by John Mason Cook and his three sons, especially by its involvement with military transport and postal services for Britain and Egypt during the 1880s, when Cook began organising tours to the Middle East.

By 1888, the company had established offices around the world, including three in Australia and one in Auckland, New Zealand and in 1890, the company sold over 3¼ million tickets.[4]

John Mason Cook promoted, and even led, excursions to, for example, the Middle East where he was described as "the second-greatest man in Egypt".[4] However, while arranging for the German Emperor Wilhelm II to visit Palestine in 1898, he contracted dysentery and died the following year.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Williamson, Andrew. The Golden Age of Travel. Thomas Cook. ISBN 978-1-900341-33-2. 
  2. ^ a b Chisholm 1911.
  3. ^ Ingle R, 'Thomas Cook of Leicester'
  4. ^ a b Anthony Coleman (1999). Millennium. Transworld Publishers. pp. 231–233. ISBN 0-593-04478-9. 

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