The domain name "bitcoin.org" was registered on 18 August 2008.

On 31 October 2008, a link to a paper authored by Satoshi Nakamoto titled Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System was posted to a cryptography mailing list.

Nakamoto implemented the bitcoin software as an open-source code and released it in January 2009. Nakamoto's identity remains unknown.

On 3 January 2009, the bitcoin network was created when Nakamoto mined the starting block of the chain, known as the genesis block. Embedded in the coinbase of this block was the text "The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks". This note references a headline published by The Times and has been interpreted as both a timestamp and a comment on the instability caused by fractional-reserve banking.

The receiver of the first bitcoin transaction was cypherpunk Hal Finney, who had created the first reusable proof-of-work system (RPoW) in 2004. Finney downloaded the bitcoin software on its release date, and on 12 January 2009 received ten bitcoins from Nakamoto. Other early cypherpunk supporters were creators of bitcoin predecessors: Wei Dai, creator of b-money, and Nick Szabo, creator of bit gold.

In 2010, the first known commercial transaction using bitcoin occurred when programmer Laszlo Hanyecz bought two Papa John's pizzas for ₿10,000.

Blockchain analysts estimate that Nakamoto had mined about one million bitcoins before disappearing in 2010, when he handed the network alert key and control of the code repository over to Gavin Andresen. Andresen later became lead developer at the Bitcoin Foundation.

After early "proof-of-concept" transactions, the first major users of bitcoin were black markets, such as Silk Road. During its 30 months of existence, beginning in February 2011, Silk Road exclusively accepted bitcoins as payment, transacting 9.9 million in bitcoins, worth about $214 million.

The price rose to $31.50 on 8 June. Within a month the price fell to $11.00. The next month it fell to $7.80, and in another month to $4.77.

In 2011, the price started at $0.30 per bitcoin, growing to $5.27 for the year.

On 1 November 2011, the reference implementation Bitcoin-Qt version 0.5.0 was released. It introduced a front end that used the Qt user interface toolkit. The software previously used Berkeley DB for database management. Developers switched to LevelDB in release 0.8 in order to reduce blockchain synchronization time.

The Bitcoin Foundation was founded in September 2012 to promote bitcoin's development and uptake.

In October 2012, BitPay reported having over 1,000 merchants accepting bitcoin under its payment processing service.

In March 2013 the blockchain temporarily split into two independent chains with different rules due to a bug in version 0.8 of the bitcoin software. The two blockchains operated simultaneously for six hours, each with its own version of the transaction history from the moment of the split. Normal operation was restored when the majority of the network downgraded to version 0.7 of the bitcoin software, selecting the backward-compatible version of the blockchain. As a result, this blockchain became the longest chain and could be accepted by all participants, regardless of their bitcoin software version. During the split, the Mt. Gox exchange briefly halted bitcoin deposits and the price dropped by 23% to $37 before recovering to the previous level of approximately $48 in the following hours.

The update to this release resulted in a minor blockchain fork on the 11 March 2013. The fork was resolved shortly afterward. Seeding nodes through IRC was discontinued in version 0.8.2. From version 0.9.0 the software was renamed to Bitcoin Core.

The US Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) established regulatory guidelines for "decentralized virtual currencies" such as bitcoin, classifying American bitcoin miners who sell their generated bitcoins as Money Service Businesses (MSBs), that are subject to registration or other legal obligations.

The bitcoin price rose to $259 on 10 April, but then crashed by 83% to $45 over the next three days.

In April, exchanges BitInstant and Mt. Gox experienced processing delays due to insufficient capacity resulting in the bitcoin price dropping from $266 to $76 before returning to $160 within six hours.

On 15 May 2013, US authorities seized accounts associated with Mt. Gox after discovering it had not registered as a money transmitter with FinCEN in the US.

On 23 June 2013, the US Drug Enforcement Administration listed ₿11.02 as a seized asset in a United States Department of Justice seizure notice pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881. This marked the first time a government agency had seized bitcoin.

The FBI seized about ₿30,000 in October 2013 from the dark web website Silk Road, following the arrest of Ross William Ulbricht. These bitcoins were sold at blind auction by the United States Marshals Service to venture capital investor Tim Draper.

On 30 November 2013, the price reached $1,163 before starting a long-term crash, declining by 87% to $152 in January 2015.

On 5 December 2013, the People's Bank of China prohibited Chinese financial institutions from using bitcoins. After the announcement, the value of bitcoins dropped, and Baidu no longer accepted bitcoins for certain services. Buying real-world goods with any virtual currency had been illegal in China since at least 2009.

In 2013, prices started at $13.30 rising to $770 by 1 January 2014.

On 30 July 2014, the Wikimedia Foundation started accepting donations of bitcoin.

HSBC refused to serve a hedge fund with links to bitcoin.

In 2014, the National Australia Bank closed accounts of businesses with ties to bitcoin.

Release 0.10 of the software was made public on 16 February 2015. It introduced a consensus library which gave programmers easy access to the rules governing consensus on the network. In version, 0.11.2 developers added a new feature that allowed transactions to be made unspendable until a specific time in the future.

Bitcoin Core 0.12.1 was released on April 15, 2016 and enabled multiple soft forks to occur concurrently.

Around 100 contributors worked on Bitcoin Core 0.13.0 which was released on 23 August 2016.

In October 2016, Bitcoin Core’s 0.13.1 release featured the "Segwit" soft fork that included a scaling improvement aiming to optimize the bitcoin blocksize.

In 2015, prices started at $314 and rose to $434 for the year. In 2016, prices rose and climbed up to $998 by 1 January 2017.

On 15 July 2017, the controversial Segregated Witness [SegWit] software upgrade was approved ("locked in"). Segwit was intended to support the Lightning Network as well as improve scalability.

On 21 July 2017, bitcoin was trading at $2,748, up 52% from 14 July 2017's $1,835.

Supporters of large blocks who were dissatisfied with the activation of SegWit forked the software on 1 August 2017 to create Bitcoin Cash.

SegWit was subsequently activated on the network on 24 August 2017. The bitcoin price rose almost 50% in the week following SegWit's approval.

On 10 December 2017, the Chicago Board Options Exchange started trading bitcoin futures.

Chicago Mercantile Exchange started trading bitcoin futures on 17 December 2017.

Prices started at $998 in 2017 and rose to $13,412.44 on 1 January 2018, after reaching its all-time high of $19,783.06 on 17 December 2017.

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. Bitcoin's price was affected even though other cryptocurrencies were stolen at Coinrail and Bancor as investors worried about the security of cryptocurrency exchanges.

China banned trading in bitcoin, with the first steps taken in September 2017, and a complete ban that started on 1 February 2018.

Throughout the rest of the first half of 2018, bitcoin's price fluctuated between $11,480 and $5,848. On 1 July 2018, bitcoin's price was $6,343.

In September 2018, an anonymous party discovered and reported an invalid-block denial-of-server vulnerability to developers of Bitcoin Core, Bitcoin ABC, and Bitcoin Unlimited. Further analysis by bitcoin developers showed the issue could also allow the creation of blocks violating the 21 million coin limit and CVE-2018-17144 was assigned and the issue resolved.

The price on 1 January 2019 was $3,747, down 72% for 2018, and down 81% since the all-time high.

In February 2019, Canadian cryptocurrency exchange Quadriga Fintech Solutions failed with approximately $200 million missing.

By June 2019 the price had recovered to $13,000.

In September 2019 the Central Bank of Venezuela, at the request of PDVSA, ran tests to determine if bitcoin and ether could be held in central bank's reserves. The request was motivated by oil company's goal to pay its suppliers.

In September 2019 the Intercontinental Exchange (the owner of the NYSE) began trading of bitcoin futures on its exchange called Bakkt. Bakkt also announced that it would launch options on bitcoin in December 2019.

In December 2019, YouTube removed bitcoin and cryptocurrency videos, but later restored the content after judging they had "made the wrong call."

According to CoinMetrics and Forbes, on 11 March, 281,000 bitcoins were sold by owners who held them for only thirty days. This compared to 4,131 bitcoins that had laid dormant for a year or more indicating that the vast majority of the bitcoin volatility on that day was from recent buyers.

During the week of 11 March 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, cryptocurrency exchange Kraken experienced an 83% increase in the amount of account signups over the week of bitcoin's price collapse, a result of buyers looking to capitalize on the low price.

On September 3, 2020, the Frankfurt Stock Exchange admitted in its Regulated Market the quotation of the first Bitcoin exchange-traded note (ETN), centrally cleared via Eurex Clearing.