The first cryptocurrency to capture the public imagination was Bitcoin, which was launched in 2009 by an individual or group known under the pseudonym, Satoshi Nakamoto. As of February 2019, there were over 17.53 million bitcoins in circulation with a total market value of around $63 billion (although the market price of bitcoin can fluctuate quite a bit). Bitcoin's success has spawned a number of competing cryptocurrencies, known as "altcoins" such as Litecoin, Namecoin and Peercoin, as well as Ethereum, EOS, and Cardano. Today, there are literally thousands of cryptocurrencies in existence, with an aggregate market value of over $120 billion (Bitcoin currently represents more than 50% of the total value).

Physical wallets can also take the form of metal token coins[107] with a private key accessible under a security hologram in a recess struck on the reverse side.[108]:38 The security hologram self-destructs when removed from the token, showing that the private key has been accessed.[109] Originally, these tokens were struck in brass and other base metals, but later used precious metals as bitcoin grew in value and popularity.[108]:80 Coins with stored face value as high as ₿1000 have been struck in gold.[108]:102–104 The British Museum's coin collection includes four specimens from the earliest series[108]:83 of funded bitcoin tokens; one is currently on display in the museum's money gallery.[110] In 2013, a Utahn manufacturer of these tokens was ordered by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) to register as a money services business before producing any more funded bitcoin tokens.[107][108]:80
^ Chan, Edwin. "China Plans to Ban Cryptocurrency Mining in Renewed Clampdown". Retrieved 10 April 2019. While China was once home to about 70 percent of Bitcoin mining and 90 percent of trades, authorities have waged a nearly two-year campaign to shrink the crypto industry amid concerns over speculative bubbles, fraud and wasteful energy consumption.
Bitcoin prices were negatively affected by several hacks or thefts from cryptocurrency exchanges, including thefts from Coincheck in January 2018, Coinrail and Bithumb in June, and Bancor in July. For the first six months of 2018, $761 million worth of cryptocurrencies was reported stolen from exchanges.[68] Bitcoin's price was affected even though other cryptocurrencies were stolen at Coinrail and Bancor as investors worried about the security of cryptocurrency exchanges.[69][70][71]
In 1998, Wei Dai published a description of "b-money", characterized as an anonymous, distributed electronic cash system.[12] Shortly thereafter, Nick Szabo described bit gold.[13] Like bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies that would follow it, bit gold (not to be confused with the later gold-based exchange, BitGold) was described as an electronic currency system which required users to complete a proof of work function with solutions being cryptographically put together and published. A currency system based on a reusable proof of work was later created by Hal Finney who followed the work of Dai and Szabo.[citation needed]
An initial coin offering (ICO) is a controversial means of raising funds for a new cryptocurrency venture. An ICO may be used by startups with the intention of avoiding regulation. However, securities regulators in many jurisdictions, including in the U.S., and Canada have indicated that if a coin or token is an "investment contract" (e.g., under the Howey test, i.e., an investment of money with a reasonable expectation of profit based significantly on the entrepreneurial or managerial efforts of others), it is a security and is subject to securities regulation. In an ICO campaign, a percentage of the cryptocurrency (usually in the form of "tokens") is sold to early backers of the project in exchange for legal tender or other cryptocurrencies, often bitcoin or ether.[47][48][49]
According to the Library of Congress, an "absolute ban" on trading or using cryptocurrencies applies in eight countries: Algeria, Bolivia, Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Nepal, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates. An "implicit ban" applies in another 15 countries, which include Bahrain, Bangladesh, China, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Iran, Kuwait, Lesotho, Lithuania, Macau, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Taiwan.[178]

Ethereum's blockchain uses Merkle trees, for security reasons, to improve scalability, and to optimize transaction hashing.[60] As with any Merkle tree implementation, it allows for storage savings, set membership proofs (called "Merkle proofs"), and light client synchronization. The Ethereum network has at times faced congestion problems, for example, congestion occurred during late 2017 in relation to Cryptokitties.[61]

In 2016 a decentralized autonomous organization called The DAO, a set of smart contracts developed on the platform, raised a record US$150 million in a crowdsale to fund the project.[25] The DAO was exploited in June when US$50 million in ether were taken by an unknown hacker.[26][27] The event sparked a debate in the crypto-community about whether Ethereum should perform a contentious "hard fork" to reappropriate the affected funds.[28] As a result of the dispute, the network split in two. Ethereum (the subject of this article) continued on the forked blockchain, while Ethereum Classic continued on the original blockchain.[29] The hard fork created a rivalry between the two networks.
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If you decide to invest in cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin is obviously still the dominant one. However, in 2017 its share in the crypto-market has quite dramatically fallen from 90 percent to just 40 percent. There are many options currently available, with some coins being privacy-focused, others being less open and decentralized than Bitcoin and some just outright copying it.
Many people believe that cryptocurrencies are the hottest investment opportunity currently available. Indeed, there are many stories of people becoming millionaires through their Bitcoin investments. Bitcoin is the most recognizable digital currency to date, and just last year one BTC was valued at $800. In November 2017, the price of one Bitcoin exceeded $7,000.
Cryptocurrencies have been compared to Ponzi schemes, pyramid schemes[76] and economic bubbles,[77] such as housing market bubbles.[78] Howard Marks of Oaktree Capital Management stated in 2017 that digital currencies were "nothing but an unfounded fad (or perhaps even a pyramid scheme), based on a willingness to ascribe value to something that has little or none beyond what people will pay for it", and compared them to the tulip mania (1637), South Sea Bubble (1720), and dot-com bubble (1999).[79] The New Yorker has explained the debate based on interviews with blockchain founders in an article about the “argument over whether Bitcoin, Ethereum, and the blockchain are transforming the world”.[80]
Though transaction fees are optional, miners can choose which transactions to process and prioritize those that pay higher fees.[81] Miners may choose transactions based on the fee paid relative to their storage size, not the absolute amount of money paid as a fee. These fees are generally measured in satoshis per byte (sat/b). The size of transactions is dependent on the number of inputs used to create the transaction, and the number of outputs.[7]:ch. 8