Skip to Main Content

Travel Agents


The first travel agency in the United States was established in 1872. Before this time, travel as an activity was not widespread due to wars and international barriers, inadequate transportation and hotels, lack of leisure time, the threat of contagious disease, and lower standards of living. Despite the glamour attached to such early travelers as the Italian explorer Marco Polo, people of the Middle Ages and the 17th and 18th centuries were not accustomed to traveling for pleasure.

The manufacturing operations that started during the Industrial Revolution caused international trade to expand greatly. Commercial traffic between countries stimulated both business and personal travel. Yet until the 20th century, travel was arduous, and most areas were unprepared for tourists.

The travel business began with Thomas Cook, an Englishman who first popularized the guided tour. In 1841, Cook arranged his first excursion: a special Midland Counties Railroad Company train to carry passengers from Leicester to a temperance meeting in Loughborough. His business grew rapidly. He made arrangements for 165,000 visitors to attend the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London. The following year, he organized the first "Cook's Tour." Earnest groups of English tourists were soon seen traveling by camel to view the Pyramids and the Sphinx, gliding past historic castles on the Rhine, and riding by carriage to view the wonders of Paris. The "Grand Tour" of Europe soon became an integral part of a young person's education among the privileged classes.

Over the next century, the development of the railroads, the replacement of sailing ships with faster steamships, the advent of the automobile and the bus, and the invention of the airplane provided an improved quality of transportation that encouraged people to travel for relaxation and personal enrichment. At the same time, cities, regions, and countries began to appreciate the economic aspects of travel. Promotional campaigns were organized to attract and accommodate tourists. Formal organization of the travel industry was reflected in the establishment in 1931 of the American Society of Travel Agents.

In recent years, travel agents to some locations have accommodated a great increase in family travel. This increase is in part a result of greater leisure time. As long as leisure time continues to grow and the nation's standard of living increases, there will be a need for travel agents to help people in planning their vacations wisely.