Founded the Thomas Cook travel company and pioneered package holidays. He used the railway to start it stating: "Railway travelling is travelling for the millions."
His first excursion occurred on the 5th of July 1841 when he took a temperance group from Leicester to Loughborough for a shilling per person. Included in the fee were speeches, food and a brass band. By 1845 he gave up his job as a printer to organise excursions full time.
The Mid Victorian era proved to be the perfect time for the starting of his business: a romantic middle-class fascination with the Highlands of Scotland and the Lake District and occasions such as the Great Exhibition of 1851 helped foster a great desire for travel. But although railways offered the opportunity travelling was complicated. Hence Thomas Cook had his chance.
He was a Baptist and a teetotaller and felt imbued with the Free Trade Gospel of Peace. From 1848 Scottish holidays became the basis of his success. Excursions included: seeing the Duke of Wellington's lying in state and visiting Ireland. The trips earnt him the nickname "the Napoleon of Excursions".
When the Scottish railway companies combined to prevent his discounts he shifted his business to overseas trips. He negociated cheap trips to Dieppe and opened up Switzerland to walking and climbing tours. He ferried 20,000 visitors to the Paris Exhibition of 1887 and in 1872 had a round the world tour which is said to have inspired Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days (although his took 222days!). But he always personally and meticulously researched his tours.
In 1871 he went into partnership with his son John and formed Thomas Cook and Son which is the name that became famous. They ran the company together for 7years before his son ousted him. The company became hugely successful having two future Kings: Edward VII and George V as clients and even arranging the transport for the army which relieved General Charles Gordon at Khartoum. By this time Thomas Cook was known as "the Booking Clerk of the Empire". This was some achievement for the son of illiterate parents. Born in 1808, he died in 1892 and is buried in Leicester