Bitcoin has no leader, but it was still made by men whose ingenuity and irascibility have led us to where we are today.
Bitcoin has come a long way, and while much of its success can be attributed to the network’s godfather, numerous shoulders have been put to the wheel to keep the cavalcade chugging along. The value of each of the following’s contributions could be endlessly debated – you might, in fact, contend that some figures were influential for precisely the wrong reasons. But whether they have your respect or not, these bitcoiners made a mark in a meaningful way. Don’t agree? The comments section awaits your vitriol.
This one’s unlikely to trigger anyone: even Bitcoin’s detractors often praise its code. The cryptocurrency’s enigmatic, pseudonymous creator, Satoshi wrote the whitepaper that set the ball rolling and was heavily involved in the network’s development until he fell off the grid in early 2011. Who knows what Satoshi’s doing now but his contribution to the digital economy is immeasurable and everlasting.
Satoshi’s last verified email was to Gavin Andresen, his faithful lead developer. Princeton graduate Andresen created the first bitcoin faucet, dispensing 5 BTC to every site visitor in an attempt to build interest in the nascent currency. Sure, the amount was virtually worthless in dollar terms at the time – but that wasn’t the point. Andresen later founded the Bitcoin Foundation and voiced support for Bitcoin Cash. He’s maintained a low profile in recent years.
Like Andresen, cypherpunk Hal Finney got in on the ground floor. As well as being the first person other than Satoshi to run bitcoin, Hal received the first bitcoin from the network’s creator. Speaking of which, many people believe that Hal could well be Satoshi. The computer scientist passed away in 2014 but will forever be known as one of Bitcoin’s most loyal and likeable servants.
Andreas is one of the world’s most respected Bitcoin and blockchain authorities. Author of technical guides on the workings of Bitcoin and Ethereum, the coder and commentator hosts the Let’s Talk Bitcoin podcast and has also appeared on media platforms like The Joe Rogan Experience and London Real, invariably waxing lyrical about BTC. In its 2020 guide, Messari called Antonopoulos “the clearest and most inspiring teacher in crypto.”
Vitalik Buterin’s name might be synonymous with rival network Ethereum, but he also co-founded Bitcoin Magazine (with Mihai Alisie) and was one of the crypto’s best-versed early enthusiasts. It could easily be argued that Vitalik’s creation of Ethereum has shined a greater spotlight on the digital economy than just about anyone, save Satoshi.
Zcash founder Zooko became interested in the concept of digital cash as an undergraduate in the early 1990s. Fast-forward 15 years and he was blogging about Bitcoin when it was barely out of the gates, a post to which Nakamoto linked just a few short weeks later. Zooko has designed various network protocols and is a major proponent of financial privacy – even if Zcash isn’t as untraceable as privacy purveyors would like.
Sirius a.k.a. Martti Malmi
Or should that be Martti Malmi a.k.a. Sirius? Whatever appellation you favor, there’s no disputing that he was one of Bitcoin’s earliest developers, discovering the protocol in April of 2009 and later being given admin access to bitcoin.org by Satoshi himself. “I think Satoshi and I were the only developers until 2010 maybe,” Malmi said later. “There may have been a third one, I am not quite sure.” The majority of changes in bitcoin’s second code release are credited to Malmi, who like Andresen has maintained a fairly low profile in latter years.
Bitcoin Cash champion Roger Ver is known as “Bitcoin Jesus,” which probably tells you all you need to know about his influence. A prolific investor in Bitcoin startups since 2011, the current Executive Chairman of Bitcoin.com is one of the most high-profile and outspoken figures in the industry. Though he often criticizes BTC these days, comparing it unfavorably to BCH, Ver’s involvement in numerous Bitcoin projects have helped push adoption and interest worldwide.
As the CEO of doomed bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox (2010-2014), Karpeles gave early bitcoiners an opportunity to trade internationally. It’s difficult to overstate the might of Mt. Gox in its heyday: at one stage, it handled close to 80% of trading volume. With the platform having crumbled amid a hail of lawsuits and burnt traders, Karpeles spent years embroiled in legal battles, with barely any time to come up for air. Even so, he’s… well… he’s still alive.
The pseudonymous Theymos was the administrator of bitcointalk.org and subreddit r/bitcoin, and it was via these and other platforms that he helped to drive interest in the digital currency. Though the webmaster’s moderation policies were slammed as “absolutely deplorable” by Vitalik Buterin, Theymos’ contribution to the cause can’t be denied – he even wrote the first block explorer.
Greg Maxwell was on the cryptography mailing list when Satoshi got Bitcoin up and running, and soon he was contributing to its code and engaging in passionate conversations on bitcointalk.org. The OG developer went on to co-found Blockstream, leaving in 2018 to focus on bringing privacy and security improvements to Bitcoin.
Bitcoin Core developer Pieter Wuille is one of crypto’s smartest scholars, racking up the second most commits since discovering the project in mid-2011. The Blockstream co-founder is responsible for many game-changing protocol improvements, not least BIP 66 and Segwit, as well as Liquid, a sidechain-based settlement network for traders and exchanges that enables faster, more confidential bitcoin transactions and the issuance of digital assets.
Like Roger Ver, tech evangelist Erik Voorhees was an early backer of bitcoin startups, identifying the currency’s value and, importantly, reaching into his own pockets to prove the point. Voorhees created popular betting game SatoshiDice and later became CEO of noncustodial exchange platform ShapeShift. Recently, he predicted that bitcoin had an 80% chance of hitting $50,000 in 12 months.
Cobra is the inspiration for this article and the current administrator of bitcoin.org, though he’s planning to reduce his involvement in 2020. It’s little wonder: he’s been involved in several bruising verbal skirmishes over the years, yet he remains an influential figure. “Most billionaires will never accept Bitcoin,” Cobra observed recently. “Most will even resent it. They won the game according to the old rules. Bitcoin is a new game, with new rules, and it will bring new winners.”
Peter Todd was just 15 years old when he opened a dialogue with Hal Finney and started obsessing over Bitcoin. Actually, the young cryptographer had attempted to design his own approximation of decentralized currency prior to stumbling upon the real thing. A busy and highly technical contributor to Bitcoin’s open-source code, Todd’s areas of expertise are scalability, security and privacy.
Wladimir van der Laan
Wladimir van der Laan is the lead maintainer of the Bitcoin repository on GitHub, having taken the reins from Gavin Andresen in 2014. The Dutch coder is employed by MIT’s Digital Currency Initiative and, unlike many on this list, he could never be described as a clout chaser; nevertheless, his 6,500+ commits to the software speak to his authority.
Despite claiming in 2016 that Bitcoin had failed, a realization that motivated him to sell all his coins, ex-Google engineer Mike Hearn remains a recognizable name in the crypto ecosystem. The first developer to author the Bitcoinj client, Hearn worked on the protocol for around five years and was once the Chair of the Bitcoin Foundation’s Law & Policy Committee.
Julian Assange’s decision to “kick the hornet’s nest” and open WikiLeaks up to bitcoiners amid a banking blockade may have expedited Satoshi’s departure. The whistleblower’s BTC donation address was launched in mid 2011 and Assange later claimed to have made a 50,000% return on the donations received. In vocally pivoting to a currency that governments couldn’t possibly shut down, Assange secured his place in bitcoin history.
Co-founder and chairman of Chinese mining manufacturer Bitmain Technologies, once the world’s dominant producer of ASICs, Jihan Wu is more than just a cog in the machine. In fact, he presides over the Antpool and BTC.com collectives that control around 25% of the world’s Bitcoin mining power. Jihan was one of Bitcoin’s earliest champions in Asia, having translated Satoshi’s whitepaper into Chinese in 2011.
So you’re a big deal in crypto, but are you name-checked in Bitcoin’s whitepaper? Not only did Satoshi credit Adam Back’s Hashcash proof-of-work system as providing a rough template, but the two cryptographers liaised with one another starting in 2008. As Blockstream CEO, Back is actively furthering the development and adoption of bitcoin while continuing to deny that he might, in fact, be the currency’s shadowy creator.
As well as contributing to Bitcoin since 2011, developer Luke Dashjr also founded one of the earliest mining pools (Eligius) and was the primary author of the decentralized mining protocol standard (BIP 22/23). He also helped design Segwit as a soft fork.
As creator of Silk Road, libertarian Ulbricht provided a virtual venue for early bitcoiners to spend their stack. Ulbricht has continued to promote bitcoin from behind bars, noting recently that “long term, the sky is the limit.” If it wasn’t for Silk Road, many of us wouldn’t be here.
Forever known as Bitcoin Pizza Guy, Laszlo Hanyecz was the first person to make a real-world purchase using BTC, shelling out 10,000 for two Papa John’s pizzas in 2010. The Floridian paved the way for much of the madness that followed when the world caught onto bitcoin in 2017 and began belatedly singing the praises of Bitcoin Pizza Guy.
One of several people on this list rumored to be Satoshi, Szabo has had skin in the digital money game since the late 90s: his bit gold proposal presciently combined elements of cryptography and mining to achieve decentralization. An OG cypherpunk, Szabo developed the idea of smart contracts that have become a major integration in many cryptocurrency protocols.
Bitcoin has no leader, but it was still made by men whose ingenuity and irascibility have led us to where we are today: willing participants in the world’s greatest supercomputer, monetary experiment, wealth transfer event, and peaceful protest rolled into one.