Bitcoin’s price has gone on a wild ride since its founding over 13 years ago when it was created on January 3, 2009. Those who bought Bitcoin (BTC) early and held onto it have typically seen phenomenal returns, but the fluctuations in Bitcoin’s price — as with all forms of crypto — have also led to considerable losses.
For crypto fans and investors curious about this space, the volatile price history of the world’s oldest and most widely embraced cryptocurrency can also be viewed as a much broader saga. Bitcoin’s story reflects the rise of decentralized finance (DeFi), the emergence of blockchain technology, and countless innovations that are changing how investors think of commerce as well as what the future of crypto might hold.
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Bitcoin Price History
While some enjoy making Bitcoin price history comparisons to past speculative manias like Beanie Babies or tulip bulbs, speculation is only one factor in any given Bitcoin price fluctuation.
Over the years, a fairly reliable pattern has emerged in Bitcoin’s historical prices. Every four years, the network undergoes a change called “the halving,” where the supply of new crypto coins rewarded to Bitcoin miners gets cut in half. This has happened three times so far. The first Bitcoin halving occurred in 2012, from 50 BTC to 25 BTC, the second in 2016, from 25 to 12.5, and the third in 2020.
As of July 15, 2022, the current reward for Bitcoin mining stands at 6.25 BTC.
In each instance, the price of BTC reached new record highs in the year or so following each halving event. This was typically followed by a Bitcoin bear market. After a period of consolidation, the price then moved upwards again in anticipation of the next halving, beginning a new Bitcoin bull market.
While the price of BTC can hardly be considered predictable, it’s useful to view the chapters in Bitcoin’s price history and what it may mean for investors.
Bitcoin Price in 2009: The Start
Price of 1 Bitcoin in 2009: $0
On October 31, 2008, the pseudonymous person or group known as Satoshi Nakamoto published the Bitcoin white paper. This paper introduced a peer-to-peer digital cash system based on a new form of distributed ledger technology called blockchain.
Then, on January 3, 2009, the Bitcoin network went live with the mining of the genesis block, which allowed the first group of transactions to begin a blockchain. This block contained a text note that read: “Chancellor on Brink of Second Bailout for Banks.” This referenced an article in The London Times about the financial crisis of 2008 – 2009, when commercial banks received trillions in bailout money from central banks and governments. This event helped mark Bitcoin’s original price at $0.
For this reason and others, many suspect that Nakamoto created Bitcoin, at least in part, in response to the way the events of those years played out.
Bitcoin Price in 2011: The Surge Pt. 1
Price of 1 Bitcoin in 2011: $1 – $30
The Bitcoin price in 2009 was barely above zero. Real adoption of Bitcoin began to take place about two years later, and a major Bitcoin price surge happened for the first time.
In 2011, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) accepted BTC for donations for a few months, but quickly backtracked due to a lack of a legal framework for virtual currencies.
In February of 2011, BTC reached $1.00, achieving parity with the U.S. dollar for the first time. Months later, the price of BTC reached $10 and then quickly soared to $30 on the Mt. Gox exchange. Bitcoin had risen 100x from the year’s starting price of about $0.30.
By year’s end, though, the price of Bitcoin was under $5. No one can say for sure exactly why the price behaved as it did, especially back when the technology was so new. It could be that 2011 marked the launch of Litecoin, a fork of the Bitcoin blockchain — and other forms of crypto began to emerge as well — signaling greater competition.
In 2012, of course, Bitcoin saw its first halving, from a 50-coin reward for mining BTC to 25 coins. This set the stage for its precipitous growth. But the pattern of an 80% – 90% correction from record highs would continue to repeat itself going forward, even as much more Bitcoin liquidity would come into being.
Bitcoin Price in 2013: The Decisive Year
Price of 1 Bitcoin in 2013: $13- $1,100
In 2013, the EFF began accepting Bitcoin again, and this was the strongest year in Bitcoin price history in terms of percentage gains. The cryptocurrency saw gains of 6,600%.
Starting at $13 in the beginning of the year, the price of Bitcoin rose to almost $250 in April before correcting downward over 50%. The price consolidated for about six months until another historic rally in November and December of that year, when the price peaked out at $1,100.
This bull run saw Bitcoin’s market cap exceed $1 billion for the first time ever. The world’s first Bitcoin ATM was also installed in Vancouver, allowing people to convert cash into crypto.
It would be over three years before the Bitcoin price would reach $1,000 again. The Bitcoin price in 2013 bottomed out at -85% off its record high.
Amidst this volatility was a surge in crypto interest, with Dogecoin being one of the more notable coins to emerge at that time. Though considered a meme coin, Dogecoin still exists.
Bitcoin Price in 2014 – 2016: The Fallow Period
While the cryptoverse quietly exploded in this time period, with technological innovations that permitted a move away from proof-of-work to the less onerous proof-of-stake, as well as the emergence of smart contracts, and the real foundations of decentralized finance — Bitcoin was relatively quiet.
The price held steady in the $200 to $400 range for much of this time, but began to climb with the second halving in 2016 — and quickly reached five digits within the year after the halving, peaking at nearly $20,000 in December of 2017. Let’s take a closer look.
Bitcoin Price in 2017: The Surge Pt. 2
Price of 1 Bitcoin in 2017: $1,100 – $20,000
The Bitcoin price in 2017 breached the $1,100 mark in January, a new record high at the time — following the Bitcoin halving in July of 2016. By December, the price had soared to nearly $20,000. That’s a 20x rise in less than 12 months, and it was followed predictably by a decline through 2018 and 2019. Bitcoin wouldn’t see the other side of $20,000 until late 2020.
Like the 2013 price surge, the 2017 rally occurred about one year after the halving. What made this time different was that for the first time ever, the general public became more aware of cryptocurrency. Mainstream news outlets began covering stories relating to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. This price rise largely reflected retail investors entering the market for the first time.
Opinions on Bitcoin ranged from thinking it was a scam to believing it was the greatest thing ever. For the believers, this was an opportunity to learn how to invest in Bitcoin for the first time, but there’s little doubt that the influx of retail interest in the crypto markets contributed heavily to volatility across the board.
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Bitcoin Price in 2020: After the 3rd Halving
The crypto feeding frenzy was well underway by the end of 2019, with hundreds of new coins on the market. By January 3, 2020, Bitcoin’s price was $7,347.49 and it steadily rose as the halving in May of 2020 approached, shooting north of $9,100 that month, nearly a 25% increase in just a few months.
But that was just the start of a meteoric rise — and fall — for BTC that few will forget, and a phase of Bitcoin’s story that many tie to the pandemic. With millions of people worldwide confined at home from 2020 through 2021 (in some cases longer), online speculation became a widespread phenomenon. One offshoot of that may have been the biggest Bitcoin bull market to date.
Bitcoin Price in 2021-2022: An Epic Rise and Fall
In August 2021, the price of Bitcoin was hovering around $46,000, and by November 2021 BTC hit its all-time high of over $68,500.
Toward the end of 2021, however, the Bitcoin hash rate, a factor thought to have some correlation to the Bitcoin price, plummeted. This occurred partly as a result of China requiring its citizens to shut down Bitcoin mining operations. The country previously housed a significant portion of the network’s mining nodes. As a result, these computers had to go offline. Many believe this reduction in mining capacity was a key factor weighing on the Bitcoin price.
But politicians and regulators also raised concerns about the future of crypto laws and regulations, adding to the general mood that crypto mavens refer to as FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) — one of many crypto slang terms now in wider use.
In any case, as of July 15, 2022, the price of BTC can be viewed through a couple of different lenses. One could note that at about $20,000, BTC is currently about 70% off its all-time high. Or one could take a long-term view going back to 2009, and calculate its staggering growth in just 13 years.
What Factors Affect Bitcoin’s Price?
Being a decentralized digital commodity of sorts has allowed Bitcoin to find a price determined mostly by the sum total of buy orders and sell orders across multiple exchanges.
Bitcoin trades constantly on many different exchanges. The price is discovered through buyers and sellers agreeing on prices at which to settle trades. It can be said that “the market” determines the price of Bitcoin.
Of course, many external factors may influence the price at which people are willing to pay for Bitcoin.
With any asset, general market sentiment can influence present and future price action. This tends to occur in cycles.
It often happens that as more and more people grow increasingly bullish on something, the price keeps rising until everyone thinks it will never go down again. Then at some point, things change, and sentiment starts shifting the other way. Once most people think the price will never go up again, that usually indicates that prices have come close to bottoming.
This is why CNN has something called the “Fear and Greed Index”. The index measures sentiment across financial markets at large using seven broad indicators. These indicators measure things like stock volatility, call-to-put ratios, and the amount of stocks making new highs vs the amount of stocks making new lows.
Bitcoin mining also impacts the price of Bitcoin. Miners are powerful computers that process transactions for the network, and they’re the source of newly minted bitcoins.
Because miners create and accumulate new coins, what they tend to do as a whole can make a big difference in market prices. Miners have to sell some of their Bitcoin to cover electricity and maintenance costs. But what they choose to do with their remaining coin can impact prices.
For example, when miners anticipate the future price of Bitcoin to be higher than it is right now, they could choose to hold most of their coins, reducing overall supply on exchanges. This would create support for prices.
On the other hand, if miners think the price of Bitcoin will fall, or they need cash today for some reason, they could sell their coins, increasing the supply and potentially driving prices lower.
3. Money Supply
Some may argue that the number one factor affecting the price of Bitcoin is the growth in money supply. When central banks print more money, the price of Bitcoin tends to rise in almost direct proportion to the amount of new currency created.
This is part of the supply-and-demand element in Bitcoin’s price. More and more dollars (or Euros, Yen, Pesos, etc.) wind up chasing an ever-dwindling supply of bitcoin. The new supply of fiat currency keeps growing while the new supply of bitcoin gets cut in half every 4 years (a process known as Bitcoin halving).
4. The Network Effect
Some say Bitcoin’s true value lies in the Bitcoin network. In other words, how many people are using Bitcoin.
A rough analogy would be social media networks. We tend to measure the value of a social network by its number of users and how active they are on the platform. Facebook and Instagram both have over a billion users each, with at least half of them logging in everyday in the case of Instagram. This is the main reason people think these networks have value.
With Bitcoin, the more people who create cryptocurrency wallets, convert fiat currency to Bitcoin, and spend or store those coins, the more valuable Bitcoin could become. And as the price of Bitcoin rises, more people tend to join in the network, potentially creating a positive feedback loop.
While the price of Bitcoin has often defied expectations, it helps to remember that the history of the world’s biggest cryptocurrency is just beginning. Thanks to the cap on its coin supply, BTC remains a relatively scarce and coveted currency, thus it is likely to have value over time.
If Bitcoin continues to grow at even a fraction of the rate it has over the past 13 years, the gains for long-term crypto investors would outpace that of most other asset classes. If the stock-to-flow model remains accurate, then Bitcoin would reach the $100,000 mark in the near future. Past performance does not indicate future results, however, and it’s always possible that models like these can break down.
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