Towering Spectacles. Thomas Cook’s Guide to the Paris Exhibition, 1889

12 April 2017

History

This enormous undertaking, designed by a French engineer, M. Eiffel, to show that the Republic of France can produce, in the centennial year of the Revolution, a monument surpassing anything the world had hitherto seen, will more than realize such expectations as may have been formed of it. From all parts of the city its graceful head may be seen, completely dwarfing into insignificance every public building and spire that Paris contains. Before this year, the loftiest construction in the world was the Washington Monument, 555 feet in height … Incredible as it may seem, it is nevertheless a fact that if Salisbury Cathedral could be placed on top of the Washington Monument, their united height would fall short of that of the Eiffel Tower by thirty feet.” (pp. 117-118) Cook’s Guide to Paris and the Universal Exhibition


Cook's Excursion for the Opening of the Eiffel Tower, 1889 © Thomas Cook Archives. To see this document in the collection, click on the image.

By 1889 the name of ‘Thomas Cook & Son’ was no stranger abroad. From its humble beginnings organising railway parties in 1841 and 1851 to the first European excursion in 1855, the company had grown into a trusted household name, refining the idea of the organised, inclusive holiday. It is therefore no surprise that in 1889, Thomas Cook & Son organised trips from both Britain and the US to the next great spectacle in the European cultural calendar; the opening of the Eiffel Tower and the Universal Exhibition in Paris.

Now producing designated printed guides for their customers, Thomas Cook & Son hoped to cover every eventuality which might be required. Beginning with ‘Practical Hints for Tourists’, Cook’s Guide to Paris and the Universal Exhibition discusses the use of passports (a document advisable to procure thanks to recent “French officialism”, although they do state that a Thomas Cook green ticket is often enough!), money and basic conversion, arriving in Paris by train, hotels, cabs and omnibuses, restaurants, the postal service and available amusements.

 

 

Cook's Guide to Paris and the Universal Exhibition, 1889 © Thomas Cook Archives. To see this document in the collection, click on the image,

In addition to the main attraction, four organised Parisian excursions are recorded and they read much the same as a modern itinerary, including the opera houses, Champs Élysées, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre and the cemetery at Père la Chaise. There are, however, a few surprises – notably the morgue, in which “The visitor may easily judge, from the number and excitement of the curious around the entrance, whether or not there are any bodies” (p.69) and the abattoirs, which were open to the public and could be accessed for a suitable fee to the porter. Neither prospect would fill a modern audience with enthusiasm.

After a fully annotated exhibition plan, Thomas Cook & Son carefully outline the main event, including the provenance of the exhibition, how to access it and the curiosities on offer such as the villages of “Oriental and Tropical people” from Tunisia and Java. The Eiffel Tower is given pride of place, with remarks on its construction, the restaurant and the platforms, although the guide helpfully points out that “All nervous persons … or those subject to giddiness, would do well to content themselves with one of the lower stages” (p.119) than risking the climb to the top (the lifts were not working when the exhibition first opened).

Cook's Guide to Paris and the Universal Exhibition, 1889 © Thomas Cook Archives. To see this document in the collection, click on the image.

Topped off by a table of French pronunciations which are more akin to a Dick Van Dyke film than a language course, Cook’s Guide to Paris and the Universal Exhibition provided the perfect accompaniment to the discerning traveller and is a fascinating example of the guides available from the Thomas Cook Archives and others in Leisure, Travel & Mass Culture: The History of Tourism.

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About the Author

Sarah Buckman

Sarah Buckman

Since joining Adam Matthew in September 2013, I have worked on many projects, including The First World War, Leisure, Travel & Mass Culture: The History of Tourism and Migration to New Worlds. My special interests are in restoration and eighteenth-century history, particularly military history.