Childhood & Early Life
Thomas Cook was born on November 22, 1808, in the village of Melbourne, Derbyshire, to John and Elizabeth Cook.
After dropping out of school at the age of 10, Cook worked as an assistant to a local market gardener. From 14 to 19, he worked as a cabinet maker, as part of an apprenticeship under his uncle John Pegg. After working various jobs, Cook became a Baptist missionary in February 1826 and started touring as a village evangelist.
In 1832, Cook moved to ‘Market Harborough,’ where he took the temperance pledge on New Year's Day in 1833. He promoted the movement through meetings and anti-liquor processions.
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Rise to Fame
In 1841, Cook requested the 'Midland Counties Railway Company' for an express train between Leicester and Loughborough, as he had organized a temperance meeting in Loughborough on July 5 that year. This was his first commercially organized round-trip, and he made a considerable profit by transporting 500 passengers. The cost of the trip was one shilling and sixpence (7.5p). He also cashed in on the passengers’ excitement to travel by train, which was a luxury back then. The train was the first-ever excursion train in England. With this, Cook established his self-titled travel company.
Three years later, Cook and the railways signed a deal, agreeing upon a permanent arrangement in exchange for more passengers for the excursion trains. Under that agreement, he arranged a trip for a group of passengers from Leicester to Liverpool on August 4, 1845; a Scotland tour for 350 people the following year; and a trip to London's 'Great Exhibition' for 150,000 people in 1851.
In 1855, Cook organized his first foreign trip, arranging a trip to Belgium, Germany, and France (eventually ending at the ‘Paris Exposition’), for two groups. The following year, he conducted his first ''Grand Tour of Europe.''
With the success of both the trips and a booming economy, Cook was convinced of a potential market for foreign expeditions, especially for trips from London to Paris. To allure more passengers, he introduced a lucrative first-ever holiday "package" that included travel, accommodation, and meals.
However, he stopped organizing personal tours toward the beginning of the 1860s and became a travel ticket agent. Cook started a travel agency on Fleet Street, central London, in 1865, the same year when the world's first subterranean railway, the ‘London Underground,’ opened for the public. In 1866, Cook conducted the first escorted trip to the United States for British travelers.
Simultaneously, Cook, being a staunch Baptist, along with his wife, ran a small temperance hotel above his travel agency office. They also ran a travel accessory shop in the office.
The newly introduced ''hotel coupon'' in 1868 was an added benefit to Cook's business.
In 1871, after 'Cook, Son and Jenkins,' a brief but unsuccessful partnership with an American businessman, failed, Cook’s son joined him as a partner, and his travel agency was renamed 'Thomas Cook & Son.'
Cook regarded his business venture as a religious and social service. He also generated profit through his son's commercial expertise. This eventually helped him in expanding the company.
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In 1872, 'Thomas Cook & Son' organized its first escorted round-the-world tour, including an overland journey across China and India, from London.
Cook's ''Circular Note,'' another innovation gesture, was introduced in 1874. It enabled travelers to carry money abroad.
As Cook approached his retirement at the end of 1878, he resolved his professional conflicts with his son. He then moved back to Leicester, where he spent his final years.
Family, Personal Life & Death
Cook was married to Marianne Mason from 1833 until she died in 1884. The two had met in 1829. They got married at Barrowden, on March 2, 1833. Their son, John Mason Cook, was born on January 13, 1834. They had two more children: Henry, who died as an infant in September 1835, and Annie, born on June 21, 1845.
Cook and Marianne lived in ‘Market Harborough,’ where he worked as a wood-turner, as his earning as a Baptist preacher was not enough for him to sustain. Like her husband, Marianne, too, signed the pledge of temperance.
Cook was almost blind in the final years of his life. He died on July 18, 1892. He remains buried at the 'Welford Road Cemetery,' Leicester, beside the graves of his wife and daughter.
A statue, erected in his honor, outside the ‘Leicester Railway Station,’ was unveiled by his great-great-grandson, Thomas Cook, on January 14, 1994. He was also awarded the honorary title of the “Serbian Order of Saint Sava.”
'Thomas Cook & Son' was later taken over entirely by John. He also used his initials to rebrand the firm's package holidays. However, he later dropped the initials.
Cook's grandsons took over the company in 1899 and continued to run it until 1928. The company was then purchased by several owners outside the family, including the railway sleeping car firm (and the operator of the operator of the ‘Orient Express’), Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits et des Grandes Express Européens.
In 1948, 'Thomas Cook & Son' became a state-owned venture.
The company was renamed 'Thomas Cook' in 1972. It was also back in the private sector with the 'Midland Bank,' hoteliers 'Trust House Forte,' and the 'Automobile Association' as the new owners. It survived the economic gloom of the "Three-Day Week."
An association of 'Westdeutsche Landesbank' and the 'LTU Group' acquired 'Thomas Cook’ in 1992.
In 2001, 'Thomas Cook AG' became one of the largest travel groups in the world.
In September 2019, the 'Thomas Cook Group,' ceased trading.