My name’s Paul and I look after the unique collection of documents, photographs, ephemera and artefacts that form the Thomas Cook Archives. You’ll be hearing lots of stories about Thomas Cook’s history over the coming months as the company celebrates its 175th anniversary. To whet your appetite, I thought I’d share with a you a few quirky facts about Thomas Cook:
1) Thomas Cook’s first excursion took place on 5th July 1841. It was a 12-mile train journey from Leicester to a temperance rally in Loughborough. His 500 customers paid a shilling each for the experience. The trip was a great success and Thomas declared: “Thus was struck the keynote of my excursions, and the social idea grew upon me.”
2) Before becoming an ‘excursion manager’, Thomas Cook worked as a gardener, a cabinet-maker and a Baptist missionary. A rolling pin he made survives today in the Thomas Cook Archives!
3) Thomas Cook published his first handbook (for a special trip to Liverpool) in 1845, his first travel newspaper (promoting trips to the Great Exhibition in London) in 1851, his first overseas brochure (for tours to France, Italy and Switzerland) in 1865 and his first railway timetable (covering all major European train routes) in 1873.
4) Thomas Cook personally conducted the first round-the-world tour in 1872/73. Thomas and his companions visited USA, Japan, China, Singapore, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), India, Egypt, Italy and France. The tour took 222 days and cost around £300 (equivalent to more than £30,000 today)!
5) Thomas Cook owned and operated a funicular railway at the top of Mount Vesuvius for over 50 years. Bought by John Mason Cook (son of Thomas Cook) in 1888, the railway was soon carrying up to 300 passengers per day. The funicular survived a volcanic eruption in 1906, but a more powerful eruption in 1944 put an end to its operations.
6) In the late 19th century, Thomas Cook & Son operated the largest and most successful fleet of steamers on the River Nile, providing luxury cruises for hundreds of wealthy Victorians, including members of the royal family, politicians and celebrities. The Nile became known as ‘Cook’s Canal’.
7) Thomas Cook was the official passenger agent for the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896. The firm was responsible for bringing visitors to the Games from all parts of Europe and also for providing accommodation for them in the Greek capital. A special conducted tour from London lasting 26 days cost 30 guineas (or £31.50, equivalent to more than £3700 today).
8) Thomas Cook was the first travel agent to offer pleasure trips by air (in 1919). Passengers paid 2 guineas (or £2.10, equivalent to around £100 today) for a half-hour flight in a converted WW1 bomber at Cricklewood, near London.
9) Thomas Cook first advertised trips to the moon in 1950. Although the company warned that there may be ‘some delay’ before such holidays came into operation, a hundred people – from all over the world – had booked their seats on Thomas Cook’s inaugural lunar tour within a matter of months. Thomas Cook’s ‘moon register’ contained 10,000 names when it was finally closed in 1996.
Did you know any of these facts already? What’s your earliest memory of the Thomas Cook brand? Let me know in the comments below.