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Updated: Nov 2, 2022, 1:02am
Conceived in 2008 and launched in 2009, bitcoin is the world’s first and largest cryptocurrency.
Back in 2010, a single bitcoin could be purchased for roughly $0.0011 Australian dollars. Today, its value is more than 24,000,000% higher—but it hasn’t all been gains.
In the years since, we’ve seen prices peak as high as almost US$69,000, but we’ve also seen prices fall by as much as $US22,000 in as little as three weeks.
Here’s a brief history of bitcoin’s biggest price movements and the milestones along the path, from thousandths of a cent to tens of thousands of US dollars.
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One of the most interesting aspects of bitcoin is that nobody knows who created it.
The 2008 whitepaper that laid out how the cryptocurrency would work—Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System—was authored by a person or group of people using the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto.
There have been several investigations to determine the true identity of bitcoin’s creator, but while several computer scientists and cryptographers are thought to have been bitcoin’s creator(s), nobody has so far been able to identify Nakamoto with any certainty.
Bitcoin sparked the birth of an entire market of alternative cryptocurrencies in 2011 when Namecoin, the world’s first ‘altcoin’ was created.
While bitcoin is created to facilitate decentralised payments, Namecoin is created as a decentralised alternative to DNS—which is essentially the ‘phone book’ of the internet, translating website addresses like Forbes.com to their corresponding IP addresses in order to route traffic.
Litecoin follows soon after, and is able to confirm transactions four times faster than bitcoin.
Within 10 years, thousands of altcoins will have been created—including bitcoin’s biggest competitor, Ethereum (ETH).
2013 marks perhaps the most stable period in bitcoin’s history, holding its value just over the US$100 mark for most of the year before spiking for the very first time in the northern hemisphere’s summer.
Bitcoin surges from around US$120 in October 2013 to more than US$1000 by November of the same year. In 2014, Bitcoin drops down gradually and fluctuates between $300-500 for the next few years.
In March of 2017, a single bitcoin breaks above the November 2013 high to reach over US$1290.
Traction continued to grow, with Bitcoin breaking US$5000 for the first time in September, and rising to nearly US$20,000 by the end of the year—around $30,000 Australian dollars at the time.
Four months later, that figure loses one third of its value in only 24 hours, falling below US$14,000.
This follows a period in which Google announces it will ban adverts for cryptocurrencies, German researchers discover links to child abuse imagery hidden in Bitcoin’s blockchain, and thieves in Iceland make off with 600 bitcoin mining rigs.
Commentators respond with headlines such as “Bitcoin is Ridiculous. Blockchain is Dangerous”, and payments platform Stripe ends support for bitcoin payments.
Prices waver at levels between US$6000 until late December 2018 when it fell to around US$3000.
During this time, the 30-year-old CEO of Canada’s biggest crypto exchange, Quadringa, dies, leaving US$190 million owed to around 115,000 customers locked in a bitcoin wallet.
The first major derivatives exchange to offer bitcoin futures, Cboe Global Markets, also drops the cryptocurrency.
But March 2019 marks the beginning of a short-lived bitcoin bull run, with prices almost hitting $10,000 again by the US summer. This is despite claims from a crypto index and ETF provider that 95% of reported bitcoin trading volume are fake.
In early 2020, Bitcoin prices drop almost 50%—with 25% lost in just 24 hours in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. As with many other sectors, the cryptocurrency experienced many ebbs and flows during the global pandemic. By July, the price had returned to $US10,000.
During this time, a high profile bitcoin scam sees the Twitter accounts of celebrities hacked. Targeted accounts, including the likes of US Presidents Joe Biden and Barack Obama, send out tweets asking for donations in cryptocurrency.
Then in November 2020, bitcoin’s value explodes when the cryptocurrency peaks back up to around $US20,000, reaching as high as $US42,000 by January 2021 (with a momentary crash down by 26%). Owner of Tesla Motors, Elon Musk, announces his company will accept cryptocurrency as payment.
In May 2021, however—a month after peaking—bitcoin loses nearly half of its value, falling to around $US30,000. The losses came after reports that China would crackdown on crypto mining and trading with new regulations, and that Tesla would sell or has sold all of its crypto holdings.
Prices begin to recover in July 2021, rising to $US50,000 by late August, before falling the following month and rising to its all-time high of almost $US69,000 in November.
Its fortunes changed again in 2022, a so-called ‘crypto winter’, that currently has bitcoin’s value down to around US$20,000—51% down on the start of the year and down 31% on the same period last year. In late June, Bitcoin (BTC) fell 30% in one week to around $US21,000.
Few would care to speculate with any confidence on how bitcoin’s price will move over the coming days, weeks and months.
A look at its history shows the dramatic twists and turns it has taken – and it seems fair to suggest that investors in this or any other cryptocurrency should buckle-up for a bumpy ride.
This article is not an endorsement of any particular cryptocurrency, broker or exchange nor does it constitute a recommendation of cryptocurrency as an investment class.
Staff writer Mark Hooson has been a journalist within the personal finance, consumer affairs and fraud sectors for more than 10 years. He is also Forbes Advisor UK’s resident tech expert. Mark says he thrives on making ‘complicated and dry topics easier to digest’.
I am the UK editor for Forbes Advisor. I have been writing about all aspects of household finance for over 30 years, aiming to provide information that will help readers make good choices with their money. The financial world can be complex and challenging, so I'm always striving to make it as accessible, manageable and rewarding as possible.