Many people have lost some data while reformatting a computer hard drive. Jered Kenna lost more than that. In 2010 he erased from his computer 800 Bitcoins that have been worth more than $200,000. Kenna isn’t upset: He has plenty more. He says he bought his first batch of virtual currency, 5,000 coins, at 20¢ each. On April 10, Bitcoins traded for as much as $258 each, according to Tradehill, a Bitcoin exchange in San Francisco, before plunging more than $100. Like other enthusiasts, Kenna shrugs off the volatility. While he won’t disclose his total holdings, he says, “I’m happy to be considered a member of the Bitcoin millionaires’ club.”
Created four years ago by a person or group using the name Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin is a virtual currency that can be used to buy and sell a broad range of items—from cupcakes to electronics to illegal narcotics. The surge in a Bitcoin’s value has made millionaires out of people who loaded up on them early on—however briefly. Many of them are self-described libertarians, drawn by the idea of a currency that exists outside the control of governments. Some were so taken with the concept that they launched Bitcoin businesses, such as exchanges where people can buy the coins or exchange them for dollars. There are also investors, notable among them, former Facebook litigants the Winklevoss twins, who have amassed around $11 million in Bitcoin, according to the New York Times.