The World’ First Travel Agency is Super Old

Thomas Cook |

The idea of traveling is a modern concept, one not imagined before a man named Thomas Cook first opened a travel agency on July 5, 1841. It was the start of a dream that turned into a standard of living.

It wasn’t that folks didn’t migrate prior to Cook. Homo Sapiens have been moving about the Earth for hundreds of thousands of years.

This concept of enriching one’s life with travel is a new one, afforded by modern travel technology, but started by the man who created the tourism agency.

That wasn’t all. Thomas Cook was the man behind many other facets of modern-day tourism, like travel package-deals, and traveler’s checks.

Cooks creation of the first travel agency remains one of the most important catalysts to our modern paradigm cultural exchange. It all started with a walking day dream…

A Cabinet Maker’s Fantasy

Cooks beginnings read like something from the Bible. He worked with wood, believed in God, and saw a better future for humanity. Cook, a former Baptist preacher, believed that booze and poor education were to blame for the misguided lives of modern Sapiens.

The first time the idea of travel came into the picture for him was on the way to a temperance meeting. He was walking along the road thinking about better ways to travel.

This was in 1841. We’d had trains since 1804, but those were more for moving freight, not people. By the time Cook arrived at the meeting, he’d worked it all out in his head.

He announced his idea to the participants; they should employ a train to cart them to the meeting place.

The next month, on July 5, 1841, Cook’s fantasy was a reality. A train carried 500 passengers 12 miles to the meeting place.

This first train planted the seed. Of the experience, Cook said, “thus was struck the keynote of my excursions, and the social idea grew upon me.”

First Tours

Picking up on the same idea, Cook arranged trains to transport folks to temperance meetings and religious schools around England.

Cook’s trains allowed thousands to travel distances they hadn’t ever considered, for the first time ever. The investments didn’t make Cook money, but each investment pushed his idea of helping people travel.

In 1845, he organized a much larger trip from his hometown of Market Harborough, England to Liverpool, about 145 miles. It was what we would call a day-trip in modern times.

Cook booked passengers for the trip and offered two classes of travel. He even supplemented the trip with a pamphlet, with information on their route and destination. The people loved it.

Europe and Beyond

Champs-Élysées 1855 |

In 1855, Cook organized his first tour to Paris. At first, he attempted to cross the English channel, but the channel operators would have none of it. They denied his requests.

Instead, Cook took his tour from Harwich, England to Antwerp, Belgium. The detour proved a mixed blessing. They traveled from Belgium to Paris, stopping along the way to see all the sights. He had officially begun a European tourism business.

In the early 1860s, Cook expanded his tours of Europe to include Switzerland and Italy, adding hotel stays and meals to the packages.

Then in 1865, he set up tours to North America, covering 4,000 miles of rail lines. Only one year later, in 1869, he toured the Nile. Thomas Cook was intent on developing his traveling business.

Every trip, every tour, only served to lure him farther from home.

Beyond Beyond

In 1872 Thomas Cook left home for eight months to tour the world. At age 63, with a small complement of travelers, Cook crossed the Atlantic to America.

They crossed the new country by rail, from New York to San Francisco. Then they set sail for Japan, well, set steam on a steam-powered vessel, touring the countries Asia.

Most of his group departed for England once they reached Cairo, but Cook himself traveled inland through Egypt, Palestine, Turkey, Greece, Italy, and France, until he made it home again.

Subsequent Cook world tours would travel to Australia and New Zealand instead of China, but his dream was full steam at that point.

Every trip would get better; the Cook reputation would grow. Today the Thomas Cook Travel Company remains the oldest in the world. The name Thomas Cook shows up in more travel related places than any other brand.

It all started on a July day, the 5th, 1841, with an idea in one person’s head.