Despite steep price corrections over the years, Bitcoin (BTC) remains one of the most popular cryptocurrencies of the 21st century.
Since Bitcoin has a limited supply of 21 million coins, large Bitcoin holders (or "whales") have considerable sway over the world's largest cryptocurrency. So who owns the most Bitcoin?
Who Owns the Most Bitcoin in the World?
It’s estimated that Bitcoin's mysterious creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, holds the largest amount of BTC. Their large cache is believed to comprise at least 1 million BTC held across thousands of crypto wallets. At the time of writing, Nakamoto's Bitcoin portfolio accounts for approximately 5% of BTC’s total supply.
One year after publishing the 2008 whitepaper "Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System," an individual or group who calls themselves Satoshi Nakamoto launched Bitcoin using an algorithm called "Proof-of-Work" (PoW). In Bitcoin's PoW system, computers compete to solve a complex math problem every 10 minutes. The first computer that successfully solves each math puzzle can post a newly verified block of BTC transactions on a decentralized public payment ledger (or "blockchain").
To encourage more people to join the Bitcoin blockchain, Nakamoto offered "BTC block rewards" to any computer that successfully solves each math problem. These block rewards introduces new BTC into circulation (a process called "mining") until the total supply hits 21 million coins. In 2009, Nakamoto set Bitcoin's average block reward at 50 BTC every 10 minutes. However, this supply is cut in half every four years in an event called "the halvening" to maintain scarcity.
Because few people knew BTC existed in 2009, Nakamoto was the only person or group collecting BTC block rewards. Most crypto analytics firms believe Nakamoto stored these coins in various wallet addresses before formally leaving the Bitcoin project in December 2010. Because nobody knows Nakamoto’s true identity, there are dozens of speculative theories on why they’ve collected so much BTC. Although there have been reports of BTC transfers between their wallets, Nakamoto has yet to sell any of this sizable BTC collection (as far as firms are aware).
Who Are the Individuals with the Most Bitcoin?
Many Bitcoin wallet addresses with large caches have anonymous owners, but a few individuals behind significant BTC positions have revealed themselves. Although we don't know exactly how much each of these individuals hold, they are among the largest Bitcoin holders.
The Winklevoss twins: Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss are known for their lawsuit against Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg but are also significant figures in the cryptocurrency industry. Forbes estimates the duo owns at least 70,000 BTC.
Tim Draper: Prominent tech investor Tim Draper is a longtime cryptocurrency fan, particularly Bitcoin. Draper famously purchased over 29,500 BTC from the U.S. government after federal agents seized BTC from an illicit online market called the "Silk Road."
Changpeng Zhao: Better known as "CZ," Changpeng Zhao is the CEO of the cryptocurrency exchange Binance and an early Bitcoin adopter—in fact, CZ sold his Shanghai home in 2015 to buy as much BTC as possible.
What Companies Are the Biggest Bitcoin Holders?
Besides individuals, many businesses have begun accumulating Bitcoin. Here are a few:
MicroStrategy: The software company MicroStrategy has the most significant BTC treasury of any publicly traded company, and CEO Michael Saylor is one of the most vocal Bitcoin supporters. Recent data suggests MicroStrategy has approximately 130,000 BTC in its reserves.
Tesla: Although CEO Elon Musk has sold some of Tesla's BTC reserves over the years, the automotive, artificial intelligence, and clean energy company has a major stake in BTC. As of 2022, Tesla held 9,720 BTC.
Coinbase: As North America's largest centralized crypto exchange (CEX), it makes sense that Coinbase is one of the biggest Bitcoin holders. According to the company's latest earnings reports, Coinbase holds approximately 9,000 BTC in its treasury.
Block: Formerly known as Square, Block is an American fintech platform known for its merchant payment solutions. CEO Jack Dorsey changed Square's name in 2021 to reflect the company's new focus on blockchain technology. According to recent conference calls, Block holds about 8,000 BTC.
What Country Owns the Most Bitcoin?
Although most countries don't recognize Bitcoin as a legal tender, several government agencies hold a sizable amount of BTC. These include:
The U.S.: According to a 2021 press release, the US Department of Justice seized over 50,000 BTC from the illegal Silk Road market. This record-breaking federal raid (minus the coins bought by Draper) contributed to the U.S. government's current supply of 214,000 BTC, which accounts for approximately 1% of Bitcoin’s total supply (at the time of writing).
China: Despite enacting a ban on crypto trading in 2021, the People's Republic of China has 194,000 BTC in its reserves. Most of the BTC in the Chinese government's reserves comes from federal raids on illicit online activities.
Bulgaria: Bulgaria made history in 2017 when it announced it owned more Bitcoin than physical gold. After a series of raids on criminal organizations, Bulgarian officials announced they seized over 200,000 BTC.
El Salvador: El Salvador was the first country to make Bitcoin legal tender in June of 2021. In addition to passing the "Bitcoin Law," El Salvador officials continue to buy BTC to add to their treasury. Recent reports suggest El Salvador has at least 2,380 BTC.
How Many People Own Bitcoin?
Statistics from blockchain analytics firms suggest more traders join the Bitcoin network each month. In fact, Glassnode revealed the total number of Bitcoin wallet addresses surpassed 1 billion in mid-2022. The company also reported that the number of addresses holding 1 BTC or more grew to 950,000 wallets in 2022.
However, since anyone can create multiple Bitcoin wallet accounts, it's difficult to say exactly how many individuals hold a portion of BTC. While reports suggest an increasing number of traders are adding Bitcoin to their portfolios, the overall cryptocurrency market has yet to eclipse established traditional financial institutions like the New York Stock Market (NYSE).
Some blockchain analysts estimate that as of 2022, approximately 4.2% of the global population (about 320 million people) held some form of cryptocurrency. The 2022 Global Cryptocurrency Adoption Index published by the firm Chainalysis suggests Vietnam, the Philippines, Ukraine, India, and the U.S. have the highest rates of cryptocurrency ownership.
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