Today, April 5, is the self-reported “birthday” of the Bitcoin founder, who goes by the name “Satoshi Nakamoto.” Is it his real date of birth? No idea; the Bitcoin protocol requires users to enter a birthday upon signup, and all we know is that he put down April 5. So, happy birthday, or whatever, to Satoshi, wherever you are.

Who is Satoshi Nakamoto? The Short Answer is…

No one knows. Not conclusively, at any rate. Satoshi Nakamoto is the potentially pseudonymous name associated with the person or group of people who released the original Bitcoin white paper in 2008 and worked on the original Bitcoin software that was released in 2009. Since Satoshi’s identity is tied up intricately with Bitcoin’s history, it is helpful to understand Bitcoin’s provenance. Bitcoin is one of the first digital currencies which use peer-to-peer technology to facilitate instant payments.

Time Line of Early Bitcoin Events

Aug. 18, 2008: The domain name bitcoin.org is registered. Today, at least, this domain is “WhoisGuard Protected,” meaning the identity of the person who registered it is not public information.

Oct. 31, 2008: Someone using the name Satoshi Nakamoto makes an announcement on The Cryptography Mailing list at metzdowd.com: “I’ve been working on a new electronic cash system that’s fully peer-to-peer, with no trusted third party. The paper is available at http://www.bitcoin.org/bitcoin.pdf.” This link leads to the infamous white paper published on bitcoin.org entitled “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System.” This paper would become the Magna Carta for how Bitcoin operates today.

Jan. 3, 2009: The first Bitcoin block is mined, i.e. Block 0. This is also known as the “genesis block” and contains the text: “The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks,” perhaps as proof that the block was mined on or after that date, and perhaps also as relevant political commentary.

Jan. 8, 2009: The first version of the Bitcoin software is announced on The Cryptography Mailing list.

Jan. 9, 2009: Block 1 is mined, and Bitcoin mining commences in earnest.

Before Satoshi

Though it is tempting to believe the media’s spin that Satoshi Nakamoto is a lone, quixotic genius who created Bitcoin out of thin air, history has taught us that such innovations do not happen in a vacuum. All major scientific discoveries, no matter how original-seeming, were built on previously existing research. Isaac Newton had been working toward a treatise on calculus, but fellow mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz published first, resulting eventually in controversy over who should be credited as the inventor of calculus.

Einstein’s theory of special relativity – originally proposed in 1905 – was built on the experimental works of other physicists such as Albert Michelson and Edward Morley, who in 1887 ran an experiment that debunked the prevailing theory of the day, initiating a line of research that laid the groundwork for Einstein’s elegant theory. Similarly, there are precursors to…