Thomas Cook (22 November 1808 – 18 July 1892) was a true pioneer of the travel industry, and the founder of the travel agency that still bears his name more than 150 years later.
Thomas was born in the village of Melbourne in Derbyshire and left school at around the age of 10, working in various jobs before becoming a Baptist missionary in 1828.
In 1841 a temperance meeting was to be held in Loughborough and Thomas Cook arranged for the Midland Railway to run an excursion train from Leicester and back, charging passengers a shilling for the return journey. This was to be the first ever public excursion train journey in England. From this he began to arrange excursions for pleasure, taking a percentage of the railway ticket sales. In 1844 the Midland Counties Railway Company agreed to make a permanent arrangement with him provided he found the passengers.
In 1856, Thomas introduced a railway tour of Europe and in the 1860s he took travel parties to Switzerland, Italy, Egypt and the US. In 1972, with his son John, he acquired business premises on London’s Fleet Street and they began the travel firm of Thomas Cook & Son. Instead of leading tours as Thomas had in the early years, the business now became an agent for foreign or domestic travel, and sold a variety of essential travel accessories such as guide books, luggage and footwear. Another initiative later introduced was the ‘hotel coupon’, valid for either a restaurant meal or an overnight stay provided the traveller was on Cook’s list.
Thomas retired in 1879, leaving his son and grandsons to continue growing the business. He lived a quiet life in Leicestershire until his death in 1892.
Thomas Cook was honoured posthumously into the Hall of Fame as the founder of the travel agency that he created in 2008.