Cryptocurrencies: A (Crazy) Decade in Review
The Bitcoin whitepaper was published by Satoshi Nakamoto on October 31, 2008. The following decade brought the growth of an entirely new industry and it’s been a wild ride filled with wealth, sorrow, and drama. Flash crashes, hacks involving hundreds of millions of dollars, illegal online marketplaces for drugs and weapons, all of it has led the massive growing industry we now know. As we near the end of the decade in 2020, let’s take a look back at where crypto started and its journey to where it is today.
October 31, 2008 — Satoshi publishes the Bitcoin whitepaper
Satoshi sends the original Bitcoin whitepaper to a cryptography mailing list. In a simple message titled “Bitcoin P2P e-cash paper”, a whitepaper with the title “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” is unleashed to the world, detailing a digital currency that can operate without relying on any central bank, government or authority. This project was heavily inspired by previous works, including “b-money” by Wei Dai inand “bit gold” by Nick Szabo in 1998, but the Bitcoin proof-of-work system was the first to provide complete decentralization.
January 3, 2009 — Bitcoin network is created with the genesis block
Satoshi himself mines the very first block on the Bitcoin network on his own computer, dubbed the “genesis block”. Hidden in the data of this first block is a message “The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks”, a references to an article published by The Times about a government bank bailout. This sheds a light on the motivation for Satoshi to create Bitcoin, offering an alternative to the traditional fractional-reserve banking system that is often touted as “too big to fail” and can rely on government bailouts to remain in operation.
The Times article that the Genesis block references
March 17, 2010 — The first Bitcoin exchange goes live
Most people recall Mt. Gox when they think of the first Bitcoin exchange, but in reality there was a predecessor, bitcoinmarket.com. Users could purchase BTC with their PayPal account.
May 22, 2010 — The first Bitcoin transaction, two large pizzas 🍕
A computer programmer named Laszlo Hanyecz makes the famous first known transaction with Bitcoin, paying 10,000 BTC for two pizzas to be delivered to his door. In his famous bitcointalk.org post Hanyecz offers bitcoin for a couple of pizzas, “like maybe 2 large ones so I have some left over for the next day. I like having left over pizza to nibble on later.” A stranger online ordered two pizzas from Papa John’s in exchange for the BTC. As of writing those BTC are now worth $72.4 million. At the time it was worth about $41, as noted by another individual on his forum post.
February 2011 — Silk Road darknet market launches with Bitcoin payments
Like it or not, Bitcoin’s first main adoption use case was for purchasing illegal goods online. From drugs to weapons to fake ID documents, the Silk Road offered an anonymous online marketplace for sellers all around the world to ship illegal goods. Bitcoin was chosen for payments because transactions can’t be censored or blocked, and back then Bitcoin was fairly anonymous since it was still possible to buy Bitcoin without going through KYC procedures and associating your real-world identity with your Bitcoin wallet.
Silk Road screenshot
April 18, 2011 — Namecoin is announced, the very first altcoin
Up until now Bitcoin was the only true decentralized ledger technology. IN April 2011. Originally forked as a copy of the original Bitcoin code, Namecoin was created by Satoshi himself as their second main project and aimed to create a decentralized alternative to DNS. DNS lets your computer know where to send your request when you visit a URL , for example “google.com”, and sends you to the correct server. These DNS systems are maintained by centralized businesses, so Satoshi wanted to create a censorship-resistant DNS so that a website could be on a “.bit” top-level domain without relying on any government body to approve it.
June 19, 2011 — First Bitcoin exchange hack occurs at Mt. Gox
Mt. Gox, an online exchange originally built for trading cards for the game Magic the Gathering (Mt. Gox stood for “Magic the Gathering online exchange”), had changed its course and pivoted to become a Bitcoin exchange. Mt. Gox was originally created by Jed McCaleb, famous for being the founder of Ripple and then co-founder of Stellar. He quickly realized that running an exchange is a lot of work and comes with a lot of legal red tape, so he sold it to a French developer living in Japan by the name of Mark Karpeles. It rapidly grew to become the only major Bitcoin exchange in the world.
On June 19 2011, a hacker allegedly used credentials from a Mt. Gox auditor to compromise the system and transfer a large amount of Bitcoins to themselves. Creating a large ask order, the attacker caused a flash crash of Bitcoin’s price to around $0.01, although the price corrected itself in minutes. Around $30,000 were stolen in this theft. Of course in retrospect that seems like child’s play compared to the later hack that we’ll talk about later.
October 7, 2011 — Litecoin is released
Litecoin, the famous altcoin that is proposed as a faster and more efficient Bitcoin, is one of the only altcoins from this time period that still exists today and remains a major player. Litecoin was created by Charlie Lee, a Google employee and former Engineering Director at Coinbase.
June 2012 — Coinbase is founded
Coinbase quickly become a Silicon Valley darling after enrolling in the Y Combinator startup incubator program. Services launched later in October 2012, marking an era of more regulated cryptocurrency exchanges aiming to scale to millions of users sand drive more legitimate investor adoption. For the first time people could purchase Bitcoin easily with a bank account, without the need to understand how trading on exchanges works.
Coinbase screenshot from 2012
November 27, 2013 — Bitcoin price hits $1,000 for the first time
Bitcoin soars above $1,000 to $1,140 for the first time in history on the Mt. Gox exchange. Many speculate that this occurred due to manipulation by trading bots run within or by Mt. Gox itself, but it has yet to be proven. This marked a major milestone as it drove media attention and brought Bitcoin into the public’s eye for the first time. It then crashed and within 5 months it had fallen back down to $400.
January 10, 2014 — Overstock.com becomes first major retailer to adopt Bitcoin payments
Overstock.com famously became the first large online retailer to accept Bitcoin payments in January of 2014. CEO Patrick Byrne tweeted that in the first 21 hours $124,000 in sales had been processed with Bitcoin payments.
February 2014 — First MASSIVE Bitcoin exchange hack at Mt. Gox
Mt. Gox experiences another hacking event. This time around over 850,000 Bitcoins were stolen, an estimated $460 million worth and a mind-blowing 7% of all circulating bitcoin at the time. It was then revealed that Mt. Gox’s Bitcoin holdings had been siphoned away slowly since 2011, and that the exchange wouldn’t be able to recover their customers’ stolen funds. Eventually the exchange filed for bankruptcy.
Head honcho Mark Karpeles was charged with a number of different crimes, but eventually in 2019 he escaped most charges but was found guilty of manipulating exchange data and was handed a suspended sentenced of 2.5 years.
March 6, 2014 — Newsweek announces Satoshi Nakamoto has been found (spoiler alert: they were wrong)
People had been searching for the true identity of Satoshi Nakamoto for years. In March of 2014, reporter Leah Goodman of Newsweek published a shocking article claiming she had found the original creator himself. The kicker? His name was really Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto all along.
With a history working in cryptography and living only a few blocks away from Hal Finney himself, the man famous for being one of the first people to work with Satoshi on Bitcoin, he seemed like a the perfect candidate. As the story unfolded though, it turned out to just be a crazy coincidence and the man tried his best to shed the spotlight that had been shone on his life.
April 18, 2014 — Monero is launched as the first privacy coin with major adoption
Monero is known today as one of the oldest-standing and most resilient privacy-focused cryptocurrencies. Forked off of the Bytecoin project, Monero aimed to provide a cryptocurrency whose transactions and balances are unknown while transactions are still secure and decentralized. This quickly became popular with illegal darknet markets since Bitcoin transactions were now being be analyzed by law agencies.
July 19th, 2014 — First stablecoin is released with BitShares
Stablecoins are intended to maintain a stable value pegged to some asset. While these are common today, there was a long period in crypto history where stablecoins didn’t exist. This all changed with BitShares’s BitUSD token (originally named ProtoShares). The precursor to Tether (one of the most popular stablecoins today) was also announced in July 2014. We’ll learn more about Tether in a bit!
July 2014 — Ethereum runs crowdsale to raise funding for development
Vitalik Buterin had been fascinated by Bitcoin and its use of limited smart contracts, but envisioned a more powerful alternative that could run any type of software on a decentralized ledger and system of machines. After proposing the project, titled Etheruem, in 2013 a crowdsale was run in July and August of 2014 to raise funds for development. 11.9 million Ether was sold, raising a total of $18.4 million.
December 2014 — First Bitcoin-related felon is sentenced to two years in prison
Charlie Shrem became known for creating the Bitinstant service, which allowed people to easily purchase Bitcoin at over 700,000 locations with cash. By the end of 2013 Bitinstant was processing approximately 30% of all Bitcoin transactions. In January 2014, Shrem was arrested at JFK Airport when it was discovered that he had been involved in a scheme to launder $1 million worth of bitcoins acquired illegally on the Silk Road darknet marketplace. In December he was sent to prison, becoming the first convicted felon for a Bitcoin-related crime.
February 2015 —Bitcoin Lightning Network white paper is published
The Lightning Network is officially announced as a layer 2 payment protocol that operates on top of the Bitcoin blockchain but offers much faster and cheaper transactions, touted as a solution to Bitcoin’s scaling issues. It was almost three more years before the Lightning Network went live.
April 15, 2015 — “Bitcoin: Not So Scary” paper published
Alright, I’ll admit this isn’t a major part of Bitcoin history but I thought some might find it interesting 😇. I was in college at this time and published a paper titled “Bitcoin: Not So Scary” that took an investigative look at Bitcoin’s illicit usage, its impact on crime, and compares this to the benefits of a global decentralized currency. Data sources used include an interview with the former CTO/COO of Bitinstant, Andreas Antonopoulos speaking to the Senate of Canada in 2014, IRS financial and criminal data, and Internet Crime Complaint Center reports, to name a few. If you’re interested in a glimpse into the state of the crypto and crime in 2015, you can find the paper here on my personal domain.
August 6, 2015 — First Bitcoin hard fork is announced with Bitcoin XT
Bitcoin Cash is the most famous Bitcoin hard fork, but Bitcoin’s long history of forks began in 2015 with Bitcoin XT. After Gavin Andersen resigned from a position as Bitcoin Core maintainer he started Bitcoin XT , aiming to fix scaling issues with ideas that lacked general consensus by the community. The initial proposal was rejected by miners.
May 2016 — Ethereum DAO is announced
At this point Ethereum had been up and running for around a year, but it had yet to see any real captivating use cases implemented using smart contracts. That all changed when The DAO was announced, a decentralized autonomous organization run completely by smart contracts. It was pitched as a type of venture capital fund for Ethereum projects, where users could submit pitches for projects and potentially receive funding from the DAO in return. The DAO was an unexpected success and managed to raise 12.7 million Ether (around $150 million at the time).
June 17, 2016 — The DAO is hacked, Ethereum forks and creates Ethereum Classic
This was a very bad day for Etherem. An attacker found a loophole in The DAO’s smart contract and was able to drain a total of 3.6 million ETH, around $70 million worth at the time. The community was split on a solution, and eventually Ethereum’s creator Vitalik Buterin announced that there would be a hard fork of Ethereum to create a new blockchain which reverted the stolen funds. Some didn’t believe that reverting blockchain transactions was the correct solution, so the original Ethereum blockchain remained and became Ethereum Classic (ETC) which still exists today.
Interestingly, the attacker maintains that the “stolen” Ether was acquired legally and that they didn’t break any laws since they only abused logic that was already existent within the smart contract.
August 2, 2016 — Bitfinex announces 120,000 BTC stolen in major hack
Hong Kong-based exchange announces a massive hack that shakes the entire industry. Ironically the hacker was able to exploit a change that Bitfinex had made to increase security while allowing more liquidity. Soon after the BTC price fell around 20% to $480. Eventually a portion of these funds ended up in the hands of the U.S. government and returned to the original owners, but a large amount still remain stolen to this day.
January, 2017 — Peoples Bank of China begins major crackdown on crypto exchanges
The PBOC took a strong stance on cryptocurrency exchanges in early 2017, beginning with a meeting with representatives of the major Bitcoin exchanges in China (BTCC, OKCoin and Huobi) to urge them to focus on compliance with regulations related to exchanges. This lead to a decrease in trading volume in China, and eventually the major Chinese exchanges halted withdawals and shut down fiat trading. A lot of trading volume was coming from Asia, so this painted a grim picture for the future growth and adoption of cryptocurrencies.
March 2017 — SEC rejects the Winklevoss’ Bitcoin ETF proposal
The Winklevoss twins, famous for their involvement in the beginning of Facebook and now for their Gemini exchange, submitted a proposal to the SEC way back in 2013 for a Bitcoin ETF (exchange-traded fund). Four years later the SEC formally rejected the proposal. Many saw this as an indicator that Bitcoin and crypto in general were still not ready for adoption as a mainstream investment asset class, and the BTC price quickly fell nearly 30% in one day before recovering to around $1,000.
NYT article on the rejected ETH
June 19, 2017 — Parity wallet hack sees 153,000 ETH stolen
Let the hacking scandals continue! This time the Parity Multisig Wallet was attacked, with over 153,000 ETH drained from three separate Ethereum smart contracts. Five months later another issue occurred with Parity wallets, this time a developer was playing with some code and managed to “accidentally” lock up roughly $280 million worth of ETH in smart contracts with no way to retrieve them. Hacks like this that abuse code in smart contracts has brought up speculation on whether smart contracts are viable option for replacing legal contracts or other mission-critical systems that currently rely on humans today.
July 1, 2017 — Tezos raises $232 million in record-breaking ICO during massive ICO craze
2017 was the year of ICOs. Any investor with no knowledge of trading or cryptocurrencies could throw $1,000 at any new ICO and turn it into $5,000 in a day, raising concerns of a bubble but everyone was making too much profit to care. Regulatory bodies had not yet been able to react to the massive influx of companies raising tens or hundreds of millions of dollars from non-accredited investors around the world. This created a modern gold rush with no rules and plenty of riches to be found.
Tezos (XTZ) was pitched as a new type of decentralized blockchain that operated using proof-of-stake and helped boost security of smart contracts and provide a different solution to governance. In July they launched an ICO to raised funds and were able to quickly scoop up $232 million.
Eventually the launch of the Tezos platform was delayed “indefinitely” (although it did later launch in 2018) due to disputes between Tezos founder Johann Gevers and the owners of Tezos’ intellectual property rights. This become a common talking point used as an example when discussing why ICOs were in need of more regulation and accountability after raising such astronomical amounts of money.
August 2017 — Bitcoin splits into SegWit and Bitcoin Cash among community controversy
As Bitcoin rose in popularity, miners struggled to keep up with the growing mempool of unconfirmed transactions. Transaction fees and times were rising, and it became obvious that a solution for scaling Bitcoin was needed. One such proposal was titled Segregated Witness, a soft fork solution that would allow large blocks and more transactions confirmed every 10 minutes. Being a soft fork, it could be adopted incrementally by the network and would still retain the original blockchain. Another proposal was a hard fork to increase the block size, creating a brand new blockchain, which eventually became Bitcoin Cash. These two proposals caused a divisive split in the community, as both sides saw the other as a definitively incorrect solution for long-term scalability.
The alternative proposal to the SegWit solution to scaling the Bitcoin network was gaining traction in a new community split off from the main Bitcoin community. Led by investor and entrepreneur Roger Ver, Bitoin Cash was initially termed Bitcoin ABC by mining manufacturer Bitmain, but eventually the mining pool ViaBTC proposed the alternative name Bitcoin Cash.
Many people feared that only one version of Bitcoin would be able to succeed, and depending on whether you were a supporter of Bitcoin or Bitcoin Cash most saw the contender as a direct threat to the network. People feared “the flippening”, when Bitcoin Cash would surpass Bitcoin’s market cap and become the main recognized version of Bitcoin.
On August 1, 2018 the hard fork officially occurred. This was a massive event in the community, with exchanges pausing Bitcoin withdrawals or deposits and many companies suggesting to stay put and wait to see what happens before moving any of your coins. A new blockchain was created with its own unique history, and Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash now existed in tandem.
Miners were allowed to vote on whether they wanted SegWit or not by signaling support or not, and by August 8th 100% of Bitcoin’s mining pools had signaled acceptance. On August 24, 2017 SegWit was officially activated.
September 1, 2017 — BTC price hits $5,000 for the first time
It’s nearing the end of the summer of bulls. Nothing seems to stand in the way of crypto prices rising higher and higher. Wall Street analysts begin talking about Bitcoin and predicting sky-high future prices, while some begin throwing around warnings of a bubble popping. Of course within two weeks the price had fallen back down to $3,000, but we all know what comes next.
November 21, 2017 — Tether is hacked for $30 million
In the midst of astronomical growth of crypto prices, the massively adopted Tether stablecoin announces that $30 million worth of Tether had been stolen. This occurred during a time when there were growing concerns around Tether, as it was beginning to be put together (partly due to leaks frmo the Panama Papers) that Tether was somehow associated with the British Virgin Island-based Bitfinex exchange. Allegations that the exchange was using Tether to manipulate prices and engage in fraud were being discussed. And yet, the market continues to rise with more momentum than ever.
Coindesk article discussing the hack
November 28, 2017 — BTC bull run continues, price hits $10,000 for the first time 🐂
The bull run seemingly can’t be stopped! China’s largest exchanges look like they’re going to be shut down, ICOs have brought a lot of regulatory pressure, hacking scandals lost hundreds of millions of dollars, but nothing has a negative affect on the price. BTC continues to lead the pack. The media is talking about Bitcoin every day, and your family is suddenly talking about “that crypto thing” at the Thanksgiving table.
December 3, 2017 — Venezuela announces the first state-issued cryptocurrency, the “petro”
Venezuela was experiencing hard times with the economy falling and the local currency losing all value. In a hail mary that nobody saw coming, president Nicolás Maduro announces a state-issues cryptocurrency called “petro” which is backed by oil reserves. A strange announcement, but historic nonetheless as this marks the first ever official state-issued cryptocurrency.
Reuters article on the petro
December 10, 2017 — CBOE launches first Bitcoin futures
Talks of Bitcoin futures contracts had been gaining traction for years, but at last they have arrived. The CBOE (Chicago Board Options Exchange) Futures Exchange will support Bitcoin futures contracts, expected to bring greater liquidity to the greater digital asset ecosystem. This marks the beginning of a number of larger financial institutions stepping into the cryptocurrency market.
December 18, 2017 — Bitcoin hits all-time high of ~$20,000. The bull run ends
BTC began the year at $960, yet here we stood at $20,000. The media is in a frenzy, everybody thinks they’re going to retire soon with all of their newfound wealth. The bull run couldn’t continue forever though. Within a few days the price had fallen 30% before eventually plummeting back down to $11,000, officially marking the end of the craziest bull run the crypto market had ever seen (and has seen since at the time of writing).
January 3, 2018 — BitConnect is issued a cease and desist, called a Ponzi scheme
BitConnect had been growing rapidly in the second half of 2017, with the goal of allowing users to lend out their BCC tokens and gain interest payments in return. A number of famous crypto influencers on YouTube and Twitter were championing BitConnect, claiming astronomical returns and getting their followings to sign up as well. Questions had begun to arise in late 2017 around the legitimacy of the platform, and by January the Texas State Securities Board issued a cease and desist, calling it a Ponzi Scheme and operating illegally without being properly registered to sell securities.
January 25, 2018 — Robinhood introduces cryptocurrency trading
The popular beginner-friendly stock trading app Robinhood introduces cryptocurrency trading. Up until now Coinbase was the only real way for beginners interested in crypto to just purchase it with a credit card or bank account. For the first time, millions of beginner investors are now exposed to cryptocurrencies and able to purchase and sell them.
April 20, 2018 — Coygo is founded
Alright I’ll admit, this one wasn’t groundbreaking industry-wide news. But I’ve got you here and this one is important to me, so I’m doing it! On this date myself and my two co-founders created Coygo with the goal of providing professional tooling for digital asset traders with a focus on security and a great user experience. Yes, we’re aware of the connotations with 4/20, not it wasn’t intentional. (P.S. you can try it free right now!)
August 3, 2018 — ICE announces Bakkt platform for digital assets
The Intercontinental Exchange, leading operator of global exchanges, announces a new spin-off company called Bakkt which aims to create a regulated and global ecosystem for digital assets. The platform plans to roll out physically-backed Bitcoin futures contracts in late 2018, bringing exposure to more traditional investors and the wider traditional asset industry.
October 15, 2018 — Fidelity announces cryptocurrency services
Another big Wall Street player steps into the cryptocurrency market. Fidelity announces a new company called Fidelity Digital Asset Services, to handle custody for cryptocurrencies and execute trades on multiple exchanges for hedge funds and other clients.
February 7, 2019 — Bitcoin price hits yearly low of $3,400 📉
Bitcoin still hasn’t recovered from the aftermath of the December 2017 bull run and its following record-breaking selloff. The price hits its yearly low of $3,400, and many are beginning to wonder if Bitcoin will ever return to its former greatness or if it’s time has come and gone as a temporary fad.
April 25, 2019 — Bitfinex loses $850 million, uses self-printed Tether to cover it up
The New York Attorney General alleged that Bitfinex lost $850 million and covered up their losses in secrecy with the Tether stablecoin, which has been revealed to be directly controlled by Bitfinex’s team. Bitfinex was alleged to have hidden their losses of corporate and client funds.
This was a massive scandal, but was not a big surprise to many as suspicions of fraud and sketchy activities between Tether and Bitfinex had been brought into light in the months leading up to the scandal. With other stablecoin alternatives now available, such as the USDC stablecoin launched by Coinbase and Circle, this event led to a number of traders moving away from Tether and towards other similar options that weren’t shrouded in scandal.
May 13, 2019 — Bitcoin and crypto payments come to Whole Foods, Amazon, Starbucks and others
Cryptocurrencies have in large only been used as investments. Their use as payments has been limited by inconvenient tax laws and a lack of acceptance by merchants. In May Gemini partnered with payments startup Flexa. Payments are handled by a secondary settlement system and not on the main blockchain immediately, but it does allow users to spend their crypto at a number of everyday retailers.
Fortun article on Flexa
June 18, 2019 — Facebook announces its own cryptocurrency with Libra
Amid controversies of privacy and data security, Facebook announces their very own cryptocurrency called Libra. Their motivation was claimed to be to help with the estimated 1.7 billion adults on earth without access to a bank account. They listed a number of corporate partners including Visa, Stripe, PayPal,, eBay, Lyft, Uber, Spotify and more to help gain merchant acceptance. Libra was planned to be backed by traditional government-backed fiat, similar to how stablecoins like Tether operate.
Libra was met with skepticism but a large portion of the community, with concerns of corporate censorship and data privacy at the forefront.
June 27, 2019 — Bitcoin reaches annual high of $12,920
Hope has been somewhat restored to the crypto skeptics, with Bitcoin’s price reaching a new annual high above $10,000. Still a far way from its $20,000 peak in 2017, this run up in price seemed to not be related to any one event or piece of news. This growth was short-lived before being followed by a drop back down to $9,500 weeks later, a downwards trend that would continue throughout the rest of the year.
And that just about wraps up 2019. It’s been a relatively quiet year as many people left the market during the aftermath of the 2017 bull run and following crash, and there hasn’t been any huge news to bring back the attention of the mainstream media. Rest assured though, there continues to be massive developments by the various teams in the space and the next couple of years should bring some seriously awesome stuff! Plus we’ve got the next Bitcoin halvening will occur in May of 2020, that should be interesting.
We made it! What a decade. It’s unbelievable how far we’ve come, from the first block of Bitcoin mined of Satoshi’s personal computer $200+ billion industry, and we’re only getting started. I hope you’ve enjoyed this decade in review. If you like this type of content be sure to follow us at coygo.app.
Silk Road screenshot, Charlie Shrem image, Bitcoin pizza image, story of The DAO, DAO graphic, PBOC crackdown and impact, Tezos image, Bakkt image, 2017 Bitcoin price run, Bitcoin Cash hard fork