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MESSRS. THOS. COOK & SON TOURS, MELBOURNE COVER
to NEW YORK

The cover has a red globe of the world with emphasis on Australia, labeled Cook’s Tours and is addressed to Messrs. Thos. Cook & Son, Cook’s Tourist Office, 261-3 Broadway, New York, U.S.A. It has a violet ‘TWO PENCE’ and a green bantam ½d Victorian stamps, cancelled with the double circle MELBOURNE/ 19 2 06/ 5 (Figure 1).

Thomas Cook born1808 in Melbourne, Derbyshire, founded the travel agency that later became Thomas Cook and Son. Thomas was brought up as a Baptist and he joined his local Temperance Society. He worked as a cabinet maker and part-time publisher of Baptist and Temperance pamphlets, becoming a Baptist minister in 1828. Cook's idea to offer excursions came to him while waiting for the stagecoach on the London Road at Kibworth. With the opening of the extended Midland Counties Railway, he arranged to take a group of 570 temperance campaigners from Leicester London Road railway station to a rally in Loughborough, eleven miles away. On 5 July 1841, Thomas Cook arranged for the rail company to charge one shilling per person that included rail tickets and food for this train journey. Cook was paid a share of the fares charged to the passengers. During the following three summers he conducted outings for temperance societies and Sunday-school children.

In 1844 the Midland Counties Railway Company made an arrangement with him provided he found the passengers. This success led him to start his own business running rail excursions for pleasure, taking a percentage of the railway tickets. On 4 August 1845 he arranged accommodation for a party to travel from Leicester to Liverpool. In 1846, he took 350 people from Leicester on a tour of Scotland, but his lack of commercial ability led him to bankruptcy. He persisted and had success when he arranged for over 165,000 people to attend the Great Exhibition in London. Four years later, he planned his first excursion abroad, when he took a group from Leicester to Calais to coincide with the Paris Exhibition and the following year he started his 'grand circular tours' of Europe.

During the 1860s he took parties to Switzerland, Italy, Egypt and United States. Cook established 'inclusive independent travel', whereby the traveller went independently but his agency charged for travel, food and accommodation for a fixed period over any chosen route. With his only son, John A. Mason Cook (born 1834) , he formed a partnership and renamed the travel agency as Thomas Cook and Son. They acquired business premises on Fleet Street, London, and by this time, Cook had stopped personal tours and became an agent for foreign or domestic travel. Thomas saw his venture as both a religious and social service, and his son provided the commercial expertise that allowed the company to expand.

In accordance with his beliefs, he and his wife also ran a small temperance hotel above the office. Their business model was refined by the introduction of the 'hotel coupon' in 1866. These were valid for either a restaurant meal or an overnight hotel stay provided they were on Cook's list. In 1865, the agency organised tours of the United States, picking up passengers from several departure points. John Mason Cook led the excursion which included tours of several Civil War battlefields. A round the world tour was started in 1872, which for 200 guineas, included a steamship across the Atlantic, a stage coach across America, a paddle steamer to Japan, and an overland journey across China and India, lasting 222 days.

In 1874, Thomas Cook introduced 'circular notes', a product that later became better known by American Express's brand, 'traveller's cheques'. Conflicts of interest between father and son were resolved when the son persuaded his father, Thomas Cook, to retire in 1879. He moved back to Leicestershire and lived quietly until his death. A figure of Thomas Cook is seen in Figure 2.

 

The firm's growth was consolidated by John Mason Cook and his sons, especially by its involvement with military transport and postal services for Britain and Egypt during the 1880s when Cook began organising tours to the Middle East. By 1888, the company had established offices around the world, including three in Australia and one in Auckland, New Zealand, and in 1890, the company sold over 3.25 million tickets. John Mason Cook promoted, and even led, excursions to the Middle East. While arranging for the German Emperor Wilhelm II to visit Palestine in 1898, he contracted dysentery and died the following year.

His sons, Frank Henry, Thomas Albert and Ernest Edward, were not nearly as successful running the business. Despite opening a new headquarters in Berkeley Square, London in 1926, ownership of Thomas Cook and Son only remained with the family until 1928, when it was sold to the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits. An example of a Cook’s Cruises Supreme Around the World via the Southern Hemisphere advertisement in 1927, is seen in Figure 3.

 

This account of Thomas Cook & Son which only spans the years that it was in the hands of the Cook family is abstracted from the Wikipedia website.


 
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