A postal reformer, he introduced the concept of sending a printed Christmas card and was instrumental in the creation of the Victoria & Albert Museum.
In 1850 he secured the backing of Queen Victoria to establish the Great Exhibition of 1851 under the presidency of Prince Albert, which was held in the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park in October 1851. He was then instrumental in the decision to secure surplus income from the exhibition to be used for improving science and art education in the United Kingdom. Land was purchased in the South Kensington area which went on to become the Victoria & Albert Museum. He was also involved in the development of The Royal College of Art.
Cole was knighted in 1875 and bought his home in Elm Row shortly afterwards. But his time in Hampstead was short lived as the hilly terrain proved too demanding.