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What is a Genesis Block?

24 Feb, 2022 Eduardo Ricou
What is a Genesis Block?

Bitcoin has become a teenager. It's been 13 years since the day the Genesis Block, or Block 0, was mined by Bitcoin's pseudonymous founder, Satoshi Nakamoto. It's not an exaggeration to say the era of digital finances split into "before" and "after" with the Genesis Block release on 3 January 2009. This article aims to look at what a Genesis Block is, its mystery and its legends in more detail. Let's dive in!

What is a Genesis Block?

The Genesis Block is the first block of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies ever mined. Every blockchain comprises blocks that store information about transactions on the network. Every block has a unique header that is used for its identification.

Block 0 is the first block upon which all the rest blocks in the blockchain are added. The blocks are layered and grow in height until the end of the blockchain is reached. The layered structure of the blockchain networks is one of the main things making the blockchain-based cryptocurrency so secure.

Bitcoin blocks

Bitcoin's Genesis Block is the first proof-of-work blockchain network, which became a template for building other blockchain-based cryptocurrencies. The origin of Bitcoin's Genesis Block is as mysterious as the personality of Bitcoin's founder.

Nakamoto was an anonymous developer who made history with the release of the Genesis Block. The original block contained the first 50 Bitcoins on SourceForge.

Genesis Block history

Everyone wondering what a Genesis Block is should start their research by learning the historybehind the Genesis Block.

Bitcoin's Genesis Block is the ancestor of every other block since every bitcoin traces to the past one. Unlike modern miners who use specialised graphic cards for mining, Nakamoto used a CPU.

When Bitcoin appeared, there was no competition in the cryptocurrency field. Bitcoin was treated purely as an experiment, and nobody could predict how far it would go. It took about one year until it started to catch on.

The Genesis Block was released on 3 January 2009. Block 1 wasn't mined until six days later, on 9 January 2009. Because the average timestamp gap between blocks is ten minutes, this long delay seemed to be rather odd. There are several theories explaining the delay:

  • Some suggested that it took Nakamoto six days to mine the original block for testing the Bitcoin system to ensure it was stable enough.
  • Another group of more spiritual followers thought that Nakamoto intended to follow the story of God's rest on the seventh day after creating the world during the first six days.

Nakamoto continued mining Bitcoins a few years after releasing the Genesis Block. He became the largest Bitcoin holder because there were only 50 coins in the original blocks, and competition was low. Nakamoto disappeared in 2011 and has never moved coins or attempted to cash out since then. Still, he remains one of the largest Bitcoin holders, with an estimated 1 billion BTC.

What is Bitcoin's Genesis Block?

Nakamoto's absence has a calming effect on Bitcoin miners. If he returns and floods the network with millions of coins, it would annihilate the currency's value.

Legends of the Genesis Block

There are many legends and mysteries around Bitcoin and its founder. To begin with, Satoshi Nakamoto is the pseudonym of a person who disappeared a few years after the Genesis Block's release. This mysterious event paved the way for the Genesis Block's continuous enigma. Let's consider some of the most puzzling stories related to the Genesis Block.

Secret message

Everyone interested in learning what a Genesis Block is should know about one of its main mysteries: the secret message. 

BTC hidden message from The Times

Unlike other 502,000+ blocks released afterwards, the Genesis Block contained a hidden message left by Nakamoto: "The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on the brink of second bailout for banks". The text is the headline for an article published in the 3 January 2009 edition of Times, a London daily, about the failure of the British government as a result of their attempt to stimulate the economy following the financial crisis of August 2007.

Although Nakamoto never commented on the meaning of this message, many interpreted it as a reference to why Bitcoin was developed, i.e., to cut out the corrupt, unreliable banks and middlemen by launching a currency driven by people. Nakamoto hated the idea of too-big-to-fail financial institutions and wanted his cryptocurrency to be different in this regard.

Most think that Nakamoto's reference to The Times' article was a hint at how Bitcoin differed from financial institutions that needed government bailouts in 2008.

First 50 BTC

Another legend worth mentioning in the discussion of what a Genesis Block is refers to the first 50 BTC.

Current versions of the Bitcoin system handle blocks and transactions databases differently from the original system. It leaves the Genesis Block as a weird special case in the code.

However, the release of the Genesis Block was accompanied by debates of whether the code that made the Genesis Block was intended to be non-tradeable or if it was a mistake by Nakamoto. Even though the Genesis Block points to a real address, the link displayed an error message upon its activation. The system couldn't find the first 50 BTC transactions in the database, and the spending transaction was declined. Miners suggested that the Genesis Block's transaction is not a real transaction made by the original Bitcoin client.

There is an ongoing debate over whether Nakamoto intended to make the first 50 Bitcoins non-tradable or if it that was merely a mistake. Most believe it was an error, and Nakamoto wrote the code just like he wanted it. However, if Nakamoto is not discovered, this will only remain guesswork.

In tribute to Nakamoto

There were 50 Bitcoins in the original Genesis Block. Despite this, many people have continued sending the address Bitcoins in honour of Nakamoto since the early days of the blockchain network. Such donations had a symbolic meaning because they couldn't be spent when they joined the original address. Whether it was an oversight or Nakamoto intended to make the 50 Bitcoins spendable, Bitcoin's Genesis Block became synonymous with Nakamoto and existed as the entire project's backbone or as a kind of shrine for Nakamoto fans, which they can throw their Bitcoins into.

For many Bitcoin fans, the Genesis Block remains a key to the identification of Nakamoto himself. The idea is that only Nakamoto can use the private key associated with the original blocks to sign a message. If someone can sign messages with a private key, it would mean that they are none other than the BTC founder.

The Genesis Block's legacy

The story about "what is the Genesis Block" would be incomplete without us mentioning the legacy of Block 0. There is no third party to go between Bitcoin and the consumer. The Bitcoin network uses complex mathematical issues to check and double-check itself. Such mathematical problems are first solved by computers, then by Bitcoin miners. Miners can't trade Bitcoins until the math puzzle is fully validated. Another fact about the BTC network is that all transactions are saved forever, making it literally impossible to hide any evidence of wrongdoing.

Nakamoto's early protegees formed the Satoshi Nakamoto Institute (SNI) to help the public find answers to the question "What is a Genesis Block?" Along with learning more facts about the BTC history and vision. The SNI also houses one of the biggest remnants of the Genesis Block's founder. It includes a collection of his forum posts broken into subject categories, which Nakamoto penned when working on the project.

SNI Satoshi Nakamoto quotes

The true Bitcoin fans treat the Genesis Block and its anonymous creator with a kind of cult-like reverence. They find Bitcoin's arcane construct luring and intriguing, leading many users to send 'donations' to the Genesis Block.

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