Thomas Cook was a Baptist preacher and part-time cabinet maker in Leicestershire who in 1841 established a travel company, initially to offer rail transport for a group of temperance campaigners from Leicester to a rally in Loughborough. This was the first privately chartered excursion train to be advertised to the general public and its success led to Cook running further rail excursions.
In 1851 Thomas Cook arranged for over 165,000 people to attend the Great Exhibition in London. Four years later Cook planned his first excursion abroad, when he took a group from Leicester to Calais to coincide with the Paris Exhibition. In the 1860s tours were organised to Switzerland, Egypt, Italy and the United States.
In 1872 Thomas Cook’s son, John A. Mason Cook became partner in the company which became styled Thomas Cook & Son. New headquarters were established in Fleet Street, London. By this time the company had stopped personal tours and became an agent for foreign and domestic travel.
The firm introduced detachable coupons in a counterfoil book. They were valid for either a restaurant meal or an overnight hotel stay provided they were on Cook’s list. In 1874 the company introduced “circular notes”, a product that later became better known as traveller’s cheques.
Thomas Cook retired in 1879. The growth of the business was consolidated by John Mason Cook and his two sons. By 1888 the firm had established offices around the world and in 1924 it was incorporated as a limited company.
After the Second World War, Thomas Cook & Son Ltd. benefited from the post-war holiday boom, which saw 1 million Britons travelling abroad by 1950.
However by the 1960s, the company began to fall behind its rivals and became a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Midland Bank Group in the 1970s.
The company became Thomas Cook AG after being sold to a German company in 2002, but since 2007 the descendant company is Thomas Cook Group plc.
Today, Thomas Cook Group plc is one of the world’s leading leisure travel groups, with sales of over £9 billion and more than 20 million customers. The group has around 27,000 employees and operates from 17 countries.