"Cook has made travel simple,easy and a pleasure. He will sell you a ticket to any place on the globe. Cook is your banker everywhere. His clerks will answer all the questions you ask, and do it courteously. "I recommend Cook's tickets and I do without embarrassment, for I get no commission. I do not know Cook."
The people boarding the train at Leicester station thought that they were only going on a good day out. As far as the majority of the 570 people it was a day to relax. Little did they know that they were taking part in history, as part of Thomas Cook's first excursion in 1841.
Nothing had happened like it before. Rail travel was still relatively new and Cook was the first person to organize a group round fare- something even the rail companys had not thought of yet at the time-excursion rate for 'the enormous distance of eleven miles and back a shilling, children half price.'
Thomas Cook not only brought excursions into the real of reality, he also bought travel for common, ordinary citizens into scope. Until that first excursion in 1841, most travellers for pleasure were the wealthy and the aristocracy who travelled independently: less privileged people travelled only through necessity.
Thomas Cook's entrepreneurial spirit, enthusiastic vision, and social conscience changed all that. 'God's green earth in all it's fullness is for the people' he proclaimed, and set about making it possible.
Today we take organized travel for granted but Cook's approach was revolutionary. He went to Liverpool before the trip and checked hotel accommodatoins and resturants to ensure that his 350 excursionists had the best possible service. He then wrote A Handbook of the Trip to Liverpool in which he gave every detail of the excursion. It was probably the first guidebook of its kind.
Other trips followed, Cook's pioneering excursionists to Scotland were greeted with crowd lined streets, brass bands and cannon fire because the tourist was still unusual enough to be an entertaining curiousity.
Cook was also an opportunist. He was quick to see the possibilities for travel which the newly invented railways presented, and he reacted speedily when the S S Great Britain ran aground in Dundrum Bay by organizing an exursion to view the stranded ship in 1847. The Great Exhibition of 1851 brought him an excellent opportunity to expand his business and he seized it with relish. He did NOT make money, but he did make his name by persuading a great many people to visit the Exhibition with Cooks.
Despite the many setbacks of the railroad trying to undermine him by undercutting his prices, he was forced to find more passengers than he had at first calculated. He brought his son John Mason, 17, into the business to help and together they paraded though the streets of Sheffield, Leeds, Derby and Bradford with a band, making speeches about their trips to the Great Exhibition. They had also set up clubs so working men could pay in small sums a week toward the total cost which included accommodatoin at the Ranclagh Club-bed and a hearty Victorian breakfast- for two shillings, the fare was five shillings. Through their direct selling methods, he was able to take 165,000 people to the Exhibition.
Other Victorian Entrepreneurs did not miss the opportunity to copy Cook and had many rivals who gave him keen competition. Over the years he took tourists to such varied places as: the Paris Exhibition, A Grand Circular Tour of Antwerp, Brussels, Waterlo, Cologne, Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Baden Baden and Paris. In 1863 he lead a tour to Paris and Switzerland, and in 1864 to Italy. In that year Cook claimed that he had one million clients and the business was stable enough for him to settle clients' bills, but he was not actually running inclusive tours yet. The following year Coook opened an office at 98 Fleet Street, which was run by his son, John Mason.
In 1865, Cook finally crossed the Atlantic. During the American Civil War Cook watched the North American continent, which was then virgin territory untrampled by the feet of British tourists. That year the very first group of European tourists set foot in America. Led by his son, they visited among other places, New York, Washington, Niagara, Chicago, The Mammouth Caves of Kentucky and the rather gruesome deserted battlefields of Virginia where they say, 'skulls, arms, and legs all bleaching in the sun.' The party travelled 10,500 miles in nine weeks.
During the famous Nile Tours, there were no hotels so in 1868 they travelled as a vast caravan, accompanied by 65 horses, 87 pack mules, tents, beds anf field kitchens to prepare Victorian breakfasts of boiled eggs, followed by chicken and cutlets, and dinners of seven courses including wild boar and mutton. However, it was not all fun and games. When one of the party, a Mrs. Samuels, died on the trip, Cook diplomatically disguised the fact from the Arabs and, pretending that she was ill, packed up her body and had it carried in a palanquin until a suitable burial could be arranged.
No matter the circumstances, Cook had a bevy of admirers. Oscar Wilde said of Cook 'They wire money like angels.' Kipling and H. Rider Haggard found words of praise. Even the American writer, Mark Twain gave Cook a mention in his writings. Cook's tours not only were for the middle classes, they also attracted the likes of the British Royal Family, The Kaiser, the Czar, many European aristocrats, politicians, bishops, archibishops and more.
The inclusive tour, in which everything is paid for in advance was also a creation of Cook as well as the Circular Note, the forerunner of the trveller cheque which he created in 1873.