The ride was originally designed by Frederic Thompson for the Pan-American Exposition of 1901 in Buffalo, New York. The popular ride cost US$0.50 ($14.00 in 2015 dollars) at the time. The fee was twice the price of other attractions at the exposition and was experienced by over 400,000 people before it closed on November 2, 1901. A Trip to the Moon was the first electrically powered mechanical "dark ride" and one of the first space rides.
The first version of the ride involved a simulated trip for thirty passengers from the fairgrounds to the Moon aboard the airship-ornithopterLuna, with visions displayed of Niagara Falls, the North American continent and the Earth's disc. The passengers then left the craft to walk around a cavernous papier-mâchélunar surface peopled by costumed characters playing Selenites, and there visiting the palace of the Man in the Moon with its dancing "moon maidens", before finally leaving the attraction through a Mooncalf's mouth. After being brought to Coney Island's Luna Park, the ride was revamped in a new building at a cost of $52,000. The centerpiece of the ride was a ship called Luna III, enlarged to accommodate more passengers. The show had also changed from the original Buffalo incarnation. The ride rose over a panorama of Coney Island and passed over Manhattan's skyscrapers before rising into the clouds.