The History Of Thomas Cook – 178 Years Of Travel

After efforts to seek a £200 million bailout failed, Thomas Cook fell into liquidation. The British organization is no longer operating after serving travelers for 178 years.
Thomas Cook Airlines, OY-VKF, Airbus A330-243
Thomas Cook provided travel services since the middle of the 19th century. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Wikimedia Commons
There have been reports that up to 600,000 Thomas Cook passengers were left stranded since the firm announced its bankruptcy. Along with this, thousands of more customers have been left anxious about their upcoming trips that were booked through the company.
This global panic is a reflection on the popularity of Thomas Cook. There have been countless affectionate goodbyes made to the firm during the day of its demise. This comes as no surprise, as the institution has served millions of holidaymakers in various forms since its original incarnation.

Railways expeditions

The inception of the agency dates back to July 1841, with entrepreneur Thomas Cook offering his first excursion. Thomas Cook & Son offered trips to members of the Temperance Society via the Midland Counties Railway. Cook escorted 500 of these members from Leicester to a teetotal rally ten miles north in the nearby town of Loughborough.
Even though the trip may have been short, it would have been the first time many of these travelers entered a train. Therefore, the 500 paid one shilling and sixpence each, which is around £7.00 (adjusted for inflation) for the return trip.
The Derbyshire native soon offered excursions across the counties with a service from Leicester to the vibrant city of Liverpool in 1845. Soon after, Cook used his decade of experience to lead tours of Wales, Ireland and Scotland in 1851. These feats attracted investment from important national figures who wanted to make use of Cook’s services.
Cook was therefore persuaded to use his set up to bring workers from the Midlands and Yorkshire for the Great Exhibition in the UK during 1851. By the time this London event was finished, Cook had taken 150,000 people across the country.
Thomas Cook Building Leicester
Thomas Cook’s Leicester office still stands as a grade II listed building. Photo: NotFromUtrecht via Wikimedia Commons

International adventures

This success gave Cook the confidence to internationally expand, combining various forms of transport. From the mid 1850s, Cook’s business serviced routes across the English Channel from Essex to the Belgian city of Antwerp. This gave way to a circular tour that included the European cities of Brussels, Cologne, Heidelberg, Baden-Baden, Strasbourg and Paris. The tour then returned to England via ports in Normandy.
Subsequently, the birth of two key aspects of modern tourism was seen following these tours. The first was the 1868 introduction of the hotel coupon, which helped customers pay for their hotel and meals. The second was the 1874 creation of the circular note, which was an early form of the traveller’s cheque.
Thereafter, Cook further expanded on his international growth to venture across the Atlantic. A network of North American tours, covering 4,000 miles of railways was set up from 1865. Along with this, Cook set up systems in Egypt with steamers that he hired to travel up the river Nile. These milestones were followed by annual world tours using Cook’s experienced network and systems.
Thomas Cook Guide
As part of its services, Thomas Cook offered guides to local areas. This is a page from a 1908 guide of Tunisia and Algeria. Photo: Internet Archive Book Images via Wikimedia Commons

Ownership changes

Thomas Cook passed away in 1892, leaving John Mason Cook to take the reins of his father’s operations. The businessman continued to grow the company from its two offices in Leicester and London before passing away seven years later. The firm was then taken on by Thomas’ grandsons until their decision to retire in 1928. Ernest and Frank Cook sold the business to its first outside owners.
At this time, Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits became the proud owners of Thomas Cook. The French company were famed for their ambitious operations with the Orient Express and were looking to expand their presence.
During World War II, the firm was sold to Hays Wharf Cartage Company. However, after the war, the company was nationalized in 1948 to become part of the British Transport Commission. The boom of commercial aviation in the post war years benefited Thomas Cook, with the firm profiting £1 million in 1965.
After nearly three decades, Thomas Cook was privatized once again following survival of the 1970s recession. The group used its expertise in package holidays to ensure safety during a time where many travel firms collapsed. Midland Bank became the sole owner of the business in 1977 and the firm vastly improved customer relations. Proposals such as launch of the 1974 Money Back Guarantee scheme helped enhance customer service and increased reliability in the years to come.
Thomas Cook plane
Thomas Cook airlines was founded in 2003, giving the travel firm further autonomy with its services. Photo: Dotonegroup via Wikimedia Commons

Historical figure

Thomas Cook was then sold to German bank, Westdeutsche Landesbank and charter airline LTU Group for £200 million in 1992. This operation lasted only nine years as Thomas Cook was again sold in 2001, this time to German company, C&N Touristic AG. In 2007, this business merged with MyTravel Group to form Thomas Cook Group plc. This incarnation of Thomas Cook lasted until September 23, 2019, when the powerhouse finally ceased trading after 178 years.
Thomas Cook’s mark can be seen all over the world today. The company pioneered package holidays with unique incentives from the beginning. The firm also continued to revolutionize the travel industry by utilising the ever changing modes of transport over the years. Despite the recent troubles that have been caused since Thomas Cook’s liquidation, the company has an extremely rich history.
After 178 years of providing travel services across the globe, Thomas Cook’s legacy won’t be forgotten.