COOK, THOMAS (1808-1892), English travelling agent, was born at Melbourne in Derbyshire on the 22nd of November 1808. Beginning work at the age of ten, he was successively a gardener's help and a wood-turner at Melbourne, and a printer at Loughborough. At the age of twenty he became a Bible-reader and village missionary for the county of Rutland; but in 1832, on his marriage, combined his wood-turning business with that occupation. In 1836 he became a total abstainer, and subsequently became actively associated with the temperance movement, and printed at his own expense various publications in its interest, notably the Children's Temperance Magazine (1840), the first of its kind to appear in England. In June 1841 a large meeting was to be held at Loughborough in connexion with this movement, and Cook was struck with the idea of getting the Midland Counties Railway Company to run a special train from Leicester to the meeting. The company consented, and on the 5th of July there were carried 570 passengers from Leicester to Loughborough and back at a shilling a head. This is believed to be the first publicly-advertised excursion train ever run in England - private "specials," reserved for members of institutes and similar bodies, were already in use. The event caused great excitement, and Cook received so many applications to organize similar parties that he henceforward deserted wood-turning, while continuing his printing and publishing. The summers of the next three years were occupied with excursions like the first; but in 1845 Cook advertised a pleasure-trip on a more extensive scale, from Leicester to Liverpool and back, with opportunities for visiting the Isle of Man, Dublin and Welsh coast. A Handbook of the Trip to Liverpool was supplied for the use of travellers. In the previous year Cook had entered into a permanent arrangement with the Midland Railway Company to place trains at his disposal, for which he should provide the passengers. A trip to Scotland followed, and the excursionists were received in Glasgow with music and salute of guns.
The next great impetus to popular travel was given by the Great Exhibition of 1851, which Cook helped 165,000 visitors to attend. On the occasion of the Paris exhibition of 1855 there was a Cook's excursion from Leicester to Calais and back for £1:10s. The following year saw the first grand circular tour in Europe. This part of Cook's activity largely increased after 1863, when the Scottish railway managers broke off their engagements with him, and left him free for more distant enterprise. Switzerland was opened up in 1863, and Italy in 1864. Up to this time "Cook's tourists" had been personally conducted, but now he began to be an agent for the sale of English and foreign tickets, the holders of which travelled independently. Switzerland was the first foreign country accessible under these conditions, and in 1865 nearly the whole of Europe was included in the scheme. Its extension to the United States followed in 1866. For the benefit of visitors to the Paris exhibition, Cook made a fresh departure and leased a hotel there. In the same year began his system of "hotel-coupons," providing accommodation at a fixed charge. The year 1869 was marked by an extension of Cook's tours to Palestine, followed by further developments of travel in the East, his son, John Mason Cook, (1834-1899), being appointed in 1870 agent of the khedivial government for passenger traffic on the Nile. The Franco-German War of 1870-1871 was expected to damage the tourist system, but, as a matter of fact, encouraged it, through the demand for combination, international tickets enabling travellers to reach the south of Europe without crossing the belligerent countries. At the termination of the war a party of American freemasons visited Paris under J. M. Cook's guidance, and became the precursors of the present vast American tourist traffic. At the beginning of 1872 J. M. Cook entered into formal partnership with his father, and the firm first took the name of Thomas Cook & Son. In 1882, on the outbreak of Arabi Pasha's rebellion, Thomas Cook & Son were commissioned to convey Sir Garnet Wolseley and his suite to Egypt, and to transport the wounded and sick up the Nile by water, for which they received the thanks of the war office. The firm was again employed in 1884 to convey General Gordon to the Sudan, and the whole of the men (18,000) and stores necessary for the expedition afterwards sent to relieve him. In 1889 Thomas Cook & Son acquired the exclusive right of carrying the mails, specie, soldiers and officials of the Egyptian government along the Nile. In 1891 the firm celebrated its jubilee, and on the 19th of July of the following year Thomas Cook died. He had been afflicted with blindness in his declining years. His son, J. M. Cook, died in 1899, leaving three sons, all actively engaged in the business.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)