Bitcoin's Early History and Who is Satoshi Nakamoto

Last Updated:
March 18, 2024
Published:
March 9, 2024


Table of Contents

"I’ve developed a new open source P2P e-cash system called Bitcoin. It’s completely decentralized, with no central server or trusted parties, because everything is based on crypto proof instead of trust." – Satoshi Nakamoto

That's the introduction of the first forum post by Satoshi Nakamoto published on February 11th, 2009 on the P2P Foundation website. The one that caused a butterfly effect that changed culture in ways good and bad. 

The post then goes into the burdens third-parties bring to online transactions, how they make micropayments impossible and addresses the privacy connection to money, and introduces digital signatures as a solution to ownership verification, as well as the use of a P2P network to check for double-spending. 

A Few Bits About Satoshi

Satoshi wrote in British English, considering his spelling of words like "favour" - though that doesn't prove with certainty that he was British. The writing of several people discussed below, including but not limited to Adam Back, Len Sassaman, and Nick Szabo, correlates with this. Also, Satoshi communications' timestamps could put the Bitcoin creator somewhere in Europe or the UK at that time, which makes the search for Satoshi a bit more difficult because the people introduced below have been known to change their location rather frequently due to the nature of their studies and work. The Times issue that had the "Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks" headline and the now-famous embedding on the Genesis block, was also only available in the UK and Europe.

Regarding the block size debate, Satoshi's side has turned out to lean toward bigger blocks, where he saw their increase as a sort of inevitability and was even semi-proposing a hard fork. Satoshi Nakamoto is, of course, most likely a pseudonym, possible (and often stretchy) solutions to which lead to known Satoshi candidates. Right off the back, in 2010, Satoshi also did not want attention from the government and encouraged WikiLeaks not to use Bitcoin for its fundraise, saying that Bitcoin should grow on its own, gradually. He or she was also not interested in promoting Bitcoin as an investment. It is estimated that Satoshi's wallets hold over 1 million Bitcoins. Someone other than Satoshi coined "cryptocurrency".

New Emails Released by Martti Malmi

New Satoshi Documents Published

New emails have been released in the ongoing Crypto Open Patent Alliance COPA v Wright UK trial, featuring a communication between Satoshi Nakamoto and Adam Back, as well as a lesser-known early contributor Martti Malmi, with 120 pages of them discussing Bitcoin’s goals, architecture, papers, energy consumption (BTC doesn’t waste), promotion concerns, a mysterious donor, anonymity, Satoshi’s LOA, digicash, timestamping, and the human condition. Satoshi goes into Bitcoin's scaling, saying that Bitcoin could possibly only have 100,000 nodes:

New Emails: Satoshi On Scaling

Satoshi also wanted to hide the transaction fee setting:

On Transaction Fee Setting

Following an analysis of the emails by the cryptocurrency community, including the running of ML-based textual analysis for stylometry by some, there are people extremely certain that it was Nick Szabo and his writing. Others speculate between the now deceased Hal Finney and Len Sassaman, and Alex Back. Read about these people and other candidates further below. 

The Buzz Around A New Transaction

At the start of 2024, Satoshi Nakamoto’s Genesis wallet received nearly 26 Bitcoin worth over $1 million at that time, which sparked speculation on the possibility that Satoshi's returned and on the ways they might have acquired the tokens themselves. Claiming that Satoshi bought Bitcoin himself could be a big stretch.

Transaction to Satoshi's wallet (transaction link)

The sender address had no history before this transaction, but later interacted with a hot wallet from the Robinhood brokerage platform.

Before going into the different people who have or may have been involved in the early developments of Bitcoin, here’s the give-or-take history of Bitcoin. 

A Brief History of Bitcoin

Satoshi labeled Bitcoin as "electronic cash", although since its inception the idea of Bitcoin as an investment has won. Institutions and governments are the biggest holders, and Bitcoin ETFs have just been launched by the biggest fund managers and are now being considered to be added to retirement funds

E-gold was the true established precursor of Bitcoin founded by an oncologist Douglas Jackson and attorney Barry Downey in 1996. It was likely much simpler in its implementation than Bitcoin, and had gained mass adoption on the internet, as described in 1999 by Financial Times with 200K accounts and over $14M in circulation.

Despite positive efforts spun by the team, the problem was that e-gold was mostly used for criminal activity transactions by hackers, fraudsters, identity thieves, money launderers, and other types of inconsiderate market participants. In 2005, the FBI raided the currency company's G&SR offices, but no charges were filed. From 2007 to 2008, G&SR entered into a plea, and it was all over after fines and not-so harsh sentences.

The Timeline

The following is a summarized history of Bitcoin, likely with many interesting things not mentioned. There’s too much : 

  • On August 18th, 2008, bitcoin.org is registered, on October 31st, the white paper is published
  • 2009, January 3rd sees Bitcoin’s genesis block 0, and January 9th sees the first Bitcoin client on SouceForge. Hal Finney joins on day 1 by downloading the client and receives the first-ever transaction of 10 Bitcoin. Wei Dai and Nick Szabo join soon after.
  • In 2010, Gavin Andresen finds out about Bitcoin and writes the first Bitcoin faucet,  10,000 BTC was exchanged for two pizzas — the first Bitcoin exchange for goods. Also in 2010, an overflow vulnerability was discovered and exploited. 
  • In 2011, other cryptos were born, BitPay was founded, and WikiLeaks started accepting BTC donations. 
  • In 2012, Jim Cramer criticized BTC on TV.
  • In 2013, The Internet Archive started accepting Bitcoin, the DEA lists 11 BTC as a seized asset, and MtGox Bitcoin exchange collapsed.
  • In 2014, Zynga tested Bitcoin for games, casinos in Las Vegas and Dell and Microsoft started accepting Bitcoin, and Warren Buffet called it a mirage, Dorian Nakamoto gets outed as Satoshi.
  • In 2015, Coinbase raised a $75M Series C round, a Vienna museum buys art with Bitcoin; In 2016, the network rate surpasses 1 exahash/s, Bitfinex is hacked for 120K BTC.
  • In 2017, 4.6x more Japanese online stores accepted Bitcoin, Bitcoin ₿ Unicode was created, exchange volumes spiked.
  • In 2018, Stripe took away the Bitcoin payments feature, the DOJ investigated Bitcoin traders and exchanges, South Korea banned anonymous trading of Bitcoin; In 2019, crypto winter.
  • In 2020, 69 Shares started a quote for Bitcoin ETPs, PayPal brought buying and selling of Bitcoin.
  • In 2021, the Elon Musk Bitcoin controversy, El Salvator sets out to buy Bitcoin, Kleinman v Wright, DOJ recovers security ransom $2.3M in Bitcoin paid by Colonial Pipeline.
  • In 2022, Terra-Luna collapses, FTX collapses, other companies collapse or go bankrupt, crypto winter. 
  • In 2023, Bitcoin Ordinals NFTs arrive, positive market sentiment spikes.
  • In 2024 so far, a new Bitcoin ATH, COPA v Wright, Bitcoin ETFs, Ethereum ETFs for consideration.  

The end of e-gold, alongside the 2008 global housing meltdown, sculpted new demand for what is now Bitcoin and cryptocurrency. 

Who wrote Bitcoin and introduced these ideas now decidedly forgotten by many is still a puzzle despite. There's just no definitive evidence on their identity, though there are several figures that may be, have been Satoshi, or have taken part in its initial creation. Here they are.

Who’s Satoshi Nakamoto? A Look At The Candidates

This is an attempt to explore the potential Satoshi candidates’ biographies and make connections between them, of which there are quite some. We kept an open mind. 

Dorian Nakamoto

Obviously, solve for the man with the name connection first. That must be the reason why his portrait image comes first in the search results and marketing campaigns. Dorian Nakamoto is a California Polytechnic physics graduate who used to work on classified defense projects as an engineer but hasn't been one for a while. 

When this hit the media fan, to journalists, Dorian Nakamoto allegedly said he was no longer involved in Bitcoin's development, but he then denied it, saying he misunderstood the question. 

The coverage also found that Dorian Nakamoto's birth name includes Satoshi. Newsweek effectively outed Dorian and published a photo of his home, which angered the crypto community regardless of its trust in the article and a crowdfunding campaign was launched that brought over 102 BTC to Dorian to help recover from the doxxing, among other things, the ordeal had caused. 

Dorian Nakamoto may have similar values to those Bitcoin's creator has expressed throughout his short online existence, but there's little pointing to his background being very close to a digital currency-related one, where the projects he worked on are classified and said to be in "defense electronics and communications". 

You gotta know C++, Forth, Windows development better than most to have written early Bitcoin, and also be an expert in communications, economics, and likely law too. Satoshi's forum account had woken up in 2014, with one message published: "I am not Dorian Nakamoto."

Nick Szabo

Nick Szabo is a computer scientist who coined "smart contracts" and built a similar digital currency in 1998 called Bit Gold. He denied his involvement with Bitcoin, although a connection appears apparent considering that he worked on the double-spending problem and tried to mimic the features of gold digitally when designing Bit Gold. 

Nick Szabo is a candidate not just because of Bit Gold, but also because his background closely resembles one Satoshi may have had – he is a computer science graduate, as well as a Juris Doctor, and has extensively worked on cryptography related to digital money. But Satoshi and Nick Szabo's views differ on Bitcoin's adoption. 

Szabo said he thinks of Bitcoin as a larger payments and settlements layer, where the world needs a base and second layer with "real currencies", whilst Satoshi has always embraced micropayments across the internet. 

A portion of the crypto community sees Nick Szabo as Satoshi because he had altered a Bit Gold blog post, dating it from 2005 to 2008 (after whitepaper's launch), to supposedly mask that he's Satoshi. But it turned out that Nick was just following a common blogging practice. Also, Nick believes that Ethereum has "vast potential" while Bitcoin can do nothing else than be a currency, which would be strange hearing from Bitcoin's creator.

Gavin Andresen

A Princeton computer science graduate, Gavin Andresen started his career building 3D graphics software and then transitioned to VoIP development, then founded a company building games for the blind. 

The Bitcoin connection appears when discovering that Gavin built the now-defunct first-ever Bitcoin faucet after supposedly finding out about Bitcoin in 2010 and then was invited by Satoshi to write code for Bitcoin. 

The First Bitcoin Faucet By Gavin Andresen

Gavin also said that Satoshi had put his email address on the Bitcoin landing page, which is why everyone would write to him and considered him a crucial member of the Satoshi gang. This led to Gavin becoming an active project manager in the Bitcoin project. Soon after, the now famous Satoshi's exit post was published: “I've moved on to other things. It's in good hands with Gavin and everyone.” 

Following that, Andresen accepted an invitation to discuss Bitcoin with the CIA, let Satoshi know, but received no reply. Andresen was paid $209,648 per year in Bitcoin. During the initial stages of the Bitcoin block size conflict regarding the to-raise-or-not TPS cap, Satoshi was already gone, and Andresen was advocating for bigger blocks, as Satoshi envisioned. 

A series of unfortunate events and arguments followed between Gavin and other Bitcoin developers, which led to them completely revoking his GitHub commit access. MIT Technology Review published in 2014 a piece entitled "The Man Who Really Built Bitcoin".

Hal Finney

Hal Finney is a computer scientist from Caltech and like Gavin Andresen, he spent his early career working in game development and then decided to do other things. Namely, Hal Finney joined a "Pretty Good Privacy" PGP Corporation that's now rather renowned as a privacy pioneer, and was an active cypherpunk in the scene. 

Hal Finney was the first person to receive a Bitcoin transaction, from Satoshi, and had communication with him regarding the potential future on-chain events, and it leads to believe that like Gavin, Hal was a part in Bitcoin's creation and decision-making. In January 2009, Hal tweeted that he's "Running Bitcoin", which would put him in the Bitcoin enthusiast community earlier than Gavin Andresen. 

Finney's Famous Post

Furthermore, Finney was credited for the invention of Reusable Proof of Works, and the first person to run a Bitcoin node. Hal Finney retired from PGP Corporation in early 2011, around the same time of Satoshi's last email. Hal died in August of 2014 due to ALS, and was cryogenically frozen. Like other early Bitcoin enthusiasts, Hal was interested in extropianism.  

Craig Steven Wright

The only man who confirmed he's Satoshi when asked in 2015 by numerous outlets, including Wired and Gizmodo. Craig Wright says they outed him, the community thinks otherwise. Right after the first coverage was published, Australian Federal Police raided Craig Wright's home as part of a tax investigation. 

Craig Wright is an Australian computer scientist, security expert, lawyer, economist and a dozen of other things considering his dozens of degrees. He's also the founder of a Bitcoin's fork, Bitcoin SV (Satoshi Vision), an attempt to bring Satoshi's values back. Wright has a background in networking, information security engineering and management, cryptography, and holds many GIAC certifications. 

The community despises him and calls him a fraud, and Craig has had several significant legal battles in recent years, one of which granted him the copyright to the Bitcoin whitepaper. Documents from a court battle show that Craig Wright included Bitcoin on his 2008-2009 tax return, which likely makes him the biggest Bitcoin spender of that year. 

But Craig has not publicly signed a transaction, which would demonstrate his ability to move coins from the original wallet, although it’s said he has signed privately for several individuals, including Gavin Andresen, with Gavin's chosen phrase in London after meeting journalists. 

Gavin supported Craig Wright, but that led to him being exiled from the community. Craig is now defending against COPA in the UK, with COPA, with industry leaders like Coinbase at COPA’s side trying to prove that Craig isn't Satoshi. 

Adam Back

Adam Back, the co-founder and CEO of Blockstream, is said to be the first-ever recipient of a Satoshi email, an email that was looking to discuss "b-money". Adam Back had already been talking about digital currency as early as 1998, but during the earliest years of Bitcoin development, Adam was not in the public eye. 

Soon after Sathoshi disappeared, Adam Back joined the Bitcoin forum and communicated with such a technical, superior understanding of Bitcoin's architecture that it appeared he'd been sitting there for a while. Regarding writing style, Adam Back also wrote in British English. Like one of Satoshi's alleged emails that goes against forks, Adam Back was anti-fork too during the block size debate. 

Just last month, February of 2024, Adam Back's newly released emails with Satoshi discuss the Hashcash papers of both Satoshi's and Back's, as well as Wei Dai's work (b-money) and how Bitcoin is different with the addition of PoW and distributed timestamp server support.  

Len Sassaman

Len's ASCII portrait is embedded in every single node of the Bitcoin network as an obituary that immortalizes him. evanhatch.eth's Medium piece with a theory that gained popularity, showcasing Len Sassaman's potential major involvement with Bitcoin, discusses how Satoshi's last message was 2 months before Len's suicide on July 3rd of 2011. 

Len Sassaman's Obituary On The Bitcoin Blockchain

The article also discusses how Len was a cypherpunk and public-key cryptography wizard who worked on the now almighty TCP/IP protocol. Len is said to have worked alongside Hal Finney at PGP Corporation, which is where they may have both been participating in the early stages of Bitcoin's development. 

It is also claimed Sassaman lived in Belgium when Bitcoin first appeared, and that Satoshi must have been working from Europe because of their communications' time stamps and wrote in British English despite being American. Len is guessed to have been Satoshi because of his involvement with remailer technology that's a direct P2P precursor to Bitcoin and a service for anonymous and pseudonymous communications. 

Len was one of the main developers of Mixmaster, a prominent remailer protocol at the time. Hal Finney even wrote a “Why Remailers” blog post as a semi-universal solution for all the different data transactions online. Collaborating with Len Sassaman on remailer tech also was Adam Back, and together they worked on OpenPGP as well. 

While in Belgium, working at COSIC, Len published 45 articles and held 20 conference committee positions. On the Satoshi-was-in-Europe argument: another piece of popular plaintext embedded on a Bitcoin node, “Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks”, was a headline from a specific print version from The Times that was only available in Europe and the UK.

Ian Grigg

Another cypherpunk and computer scientist who invented Ricardian contracts and worked on triple-entry accounting systems that were later implemented for Bitcoin, and published a paper by the same name in 2005. Ian Grigg is also thought to be Satoshi largely because of his and Satoshi's stylometry similarity (0.99996 email exchange similarity). 

But Grigg has too denied his involvement with Bitcoin in a tweet, despite his background in novel digital finance systems and proofs. He said that it's true Craig Wright was the leader of the Satoshi Nakamoto team, to which the community didn't respond lightly and didn't understand why Ian would "risk his reputation". 

Even if, as Ian himself claims, he wasn't a member of the Bitcoin team, his public comments point towards him being a prominent figure in the community and advocate of ideas similar to Satoshi's.

Final Thought

There’s no real conclusion. Although given all that’s been online for years and the newly surfaced documents, it is clear that even in the very early days of Bitcoin, Satoshi was not alone in the development and ideation. Or was it a group of people from the beginning. Is there even a difference, at the end of the day, who wrote the first-ever implementation?