Not only is bitcoin the most valuable of all cryptocurrencies, but it’s also having a great year. After starting 2017 with a valuation of roughly $1,000 each, bitcoin soared to $5,000 this September on the major cryptocurrency exchanges. And that may just be the beginning: Last year, CNBC’s Jim Cramer said bitcoin could move as high as $1,000,000 someday, creating a new wave of millionaires.
If you do get rich off cryptocurrency, be warned: Plenty of early bitcoin pioneers have already lost millions of their stash to computer failures, fraud and -- in one infamous case -- the purchase of the most expensive pizza ever known to man. Here are our favorite cryptocurrency wins, as well as some of the most epic bitcoin fails.
The most expensive pizza ever bought
In May 2010, early bitcoin pioneer Laslzo Hanyecz was struck by an unshakable craving for pizza. (Chances are you can relate.) Rather than order a pie himself, Hanyecz posted to a popular online bitcoin forum offering to trade 10,000 BTC for two large pizzas delivered to his home, topped with "standard stuff." At the time, the coins were worth an estimated $41.
Hanyecz eventually completed the transaction on May 21, 2010, a day now known in the cryptocurrency world as "bitcoin Pizza Day." The transaction went so well, in fact, that Hanyecz made it a standing offer: He’d send anyone 10,000 BTC so long as he received two pizzas.
"The pizza thing was a lot more popular than I thought," Hanyecz said, "so I made good on as many trades as I could."
Ultimately, Hanyecz spent every bitcoin he had on pizza. Each order cost him the equivalent of $48 million, using Sept. 1, 2017 bitcoin prices. But he’s not bitter about his lost millions. Hanyecz still calls the trade a "great deal at the time."
If it was a great deal for Hanyecz, it was the deal of a lifetime for his pizza buyers. The first person to buy Hanyecz a pizza cashed out his bitcoins for $400. Another buyer, Hanyecz said, eventually used their 10,000 BTC to buy a house.
The creator of bitcoin is a $5 billion mystery
The creator of bitcoin is one of the richest men in the world, and no one knows who he is.
The earliest public mention of bitcoin can be traced back to October 2008, when a man going by the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto wrote and shared a paper titled Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System. The first bitcoins were mined by Nakamoto himself in January 2009. Aside from a few test transactions, those coins have sat dormant in Nakamoto’s wallet since. It’s believed Nakamoto holds over 1 million BTC, with a value of just under $5 billion.
Despite the best efforts of journalists, however, Nakamoto’s true identity remains a mystery. The bitcoin creator has disclosed virtually no personal information about himself, except for a 2012 profile that states he is a 37-year-old man living in Japan. Many have called even that little bit of information into question, noting that Nakamoto’s code is in perfect English.
Will the real Satoshi Nakamoto ever stand up?
The man who literally threw $33 million in the trash
Think you’ve made costly mistakes? Meet James Howells, an early bitcoin enthusiast who lost more than $33 million of the cryptocurrency to a European landfill.
Howells began mining cryptocurrency shortly after its launch using a Dell laptop. He had mined roughly 7,500 BTC -- then valued at just $1,000 -- before breaking his computer by spilling lemonade on it. Luckily, Howells dismantled the laptop, saving the valuable hard drive storing the bitcoin. But this story doesn’t end here.
Years later, Howells lost track of both the cryptocurrency and the hardware. He had no idea just how valuable that hard drive was when he found it in a desk drawer in 2013. So he threw it in the trash.
Howells realized his mistake months later, but by then, it was too late. Without a backup copy of the hard drive or his bitcoin wallet, the money was lost forever to the Docksway landfill near Newport, Wales. Howells’ bitcoins were worth roughly half a million dollars when they were thrown out. Today, those lost bitcoins are worth over $33 million.
"You know when you put something in the bin, and in your head, say to yourself, ‘that’s a bad idea?’ I really did have that," Howells told the Guardian in 2013.
"Here’s a pot of gold out there for someone," he added.