Today we travel to Leicester in England where Thomas Cook organised his first rail excursion for a day out to Loughborough. 500 people took part and it was the start of a pioneering business empire and a revolution of the travel industry.
As a young man he had to leave school at the age of 10 to supplement his families meagre income. He served a four year apprenticeship with the Market Gardner John Roby and then after his father died a five year apprenticeship with his uncle and cabinet maker John Pegg. Both of his masters were heavy drinkers- so often the burden of the work would fall on his young shoulders. Whether it be selling produce in the local villages while Roby was sobering up or witnessing Pegg work hard at a good business but staying poor because he would spend every evening in the local pub. Meanwhile a new Baptist Minister had taken over his Sunday school – Joseph Winks – and he became a guiding figure in the absence of his father. Watching the destructive cycle of alcoholism would deeply influence Cook and he took the temperance pledge on New Year's Day at the age of 25. As a part of the temperance movement, he organised meetings and held anti-liquor processions.
He had been baptised at the age of 17 and he became a Baptist missionary and toured the region as a village evangelist, distributing pamphlets and occasionally working as a cabinet maker to earn money. Six years later he moved to Adam and Eve Street in Market Harborough. There he witnessed the problems of alcohol in the town on a larger scale, with the pubs and gin palaces full after a days mind-numbing labour and drink fuelled fighting breaking out in the streets. His involvement there with the temperance movement lead him to being attacked and his house targeted for violence. Rather than being dissuaded, it was on a long 15 mile walk to Leicester for a temperance meeting that he had his brainwave. He had observed on his walk, the expansion of the rail network and he thought he would charter a train and organise a day out, with a carnival atmosphere which would end with some temperance messages.
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. The success led to an expansion, he arranged for a party to travel from Leicester to Liverpool. Then a year later, on his most ambitious plan yet he took 350 people from Leicester on a tour of Scotland. By now experienced in organising travel he would arrange for 150,000 people to travel to the Great Exhibition in London. As his ambitions grew, 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 their Exhibition.
He acquired business premises on Fleet Street, London in 1865 and made sure that his office also contained a shop which sold essential travel accessories, including guide books, luggage, telescopes and footwear. With his wife, they 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. This had now become the first full blown travel agency and he formed a partnership with his son, John Mason Andrew Cook, and renamed the travel agency as Thomas Cook & Son.
It would be easy to understate his legacy.... he is the forerunner to modern tourism and tourist economies. For instance he made mass tourism possible in Italy. First, the circular tickets could be used on almost all Italian railways. These tickets allowed travel by train for a pre-set number of days along predetermined routes. Second, Cook designed a series of hotel coupons to complement circular tickets, which could be exchanged for lodging and meals at designated accommodations. Last, he introduced the circular notes which could be changed at designated hotels, banks, and tickets agents for Italian lira at a predetermined exchange rate. These were the first travellers cheques,