At the age of 24, Thomas Cook joined Temperance Society (movement against alcohol) and organized meetings & held anti-liquor processions in England. Cook’s idea to offer excursions came to him while walking from Market Harborough to Leicester to attend a meeting of the Temperance Society. With the opening of the extended Midland Counties Railway, he arranged to take a group of 540 temperance campaigners from Leicester Campbell Street 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 actually charged to the passengers. This was the first privately chartered excursion train to be advertised to the general public.
During the following three summers he planned and conducted outings for temperance societies and Sunday-school children. In 1844 the Midland Counties Railway Company agreed to make a permanent 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.
Next year, 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, however his lack of commercial ability led him to bankruptcy. He persisted and found success when he claimed that 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. 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. Such was his success that the Scottish railway companies withdrew their support between 1862 and 1863 to try the excursion business for themselves.