Thomas Cook was a lay preacher, a Baptist teatotaller who thought that the working classes would benefit from less drinking and more education. In 1841, he was walking from his home in Market Harborough to Leicester for a temperance meeting, when... "The thought suddenly flashed across my mind as to the practicability of employing the great powers of railways and locomotion for the furtherance of this social reform..".
On July 5th 1841, the first "Cook's Tour" took place when he organised a Sunday outing for around 500 teatotallers fom Leicester to Loughborough and back in open railway carriages for a shilling a head.....no buffet car, or probably decent brakes.
Cook's single-minded vision led to rapid expansion of his enterprise. Here are some of the milestones....
1851 Trips to the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in London.
1855 First package trip abroad: to the Paris Exhibition via Harwich and Antwerp (more fun than Eurostar)
1864 First tour to Italy
1865 First exploratory trip to North America
1872 8-month round-the world tour from Leicester at age of 62. This became an annual event, at bargain price of £300.
1874 First Travellers' Cheques issued
1919 Flights in Handley-Page aircraft from Cricklewood.
Linguistic bit: the term "Cook's Tour " has two different meanings, relating to different famous Cooks.
Referring to Thomas Cook, a "Cook's tour" is a guided tour of a place, or subject, that only covers the key highlights.
The other meaning refers to Capt. James Cook, meaning a roundabout route, reflecting his voyages of discovery in his ships Endeavour and Resolution.