Ethereum was initially described in a white paper by Vitalik Buterin, a programmer and co-founder of Bitcoin Magazine, in late 2013 with a goal of building decentralized applications. Buterin had argued that Bitcoin needed a scripting language for application development. Failing to gain agreement, he proposed the development of a new platform with a more general scripting language.
Ethereum was announced at the North American Bitcoin Conference in Miami, in January 2014. During the same time as the conference, a group of people rented a house in Miami: Gavin Wood, Charles Hoskinson, and Anthony Di Iorio, a Torontonian who financed the project. Di Iorio invited friend Joseph Lubin, who invited reporter Morgen Peck, to bear witness. Six months later the founders met again in a house in Zug, Switzerland, where Buterin told the founders that the project would proceed as a non-profit. Hoskinson left the project at that time.
Ethereum has an unusually long list of founders. Anthony Di Iorio wrote "Ethereum was founded by Vitalik Buterin, Myself, Charles Hoskinson, Mihai Alisie, & Amir Chetrit (the initial 5) in December 2013. Joseph Lubin, Gavin Wood, & Jeffrey Wilke were added in early 2014 as founders." Formal development of the Ethereum software project began in early 2014 through a Swiss company, Ethereum Switzerland GmbH (EthSuisse). The basic idea of putting executable smart contracts in the blockchain needed to be specified before the software could be implemented; this work was done by Gavin Wood, then chief technology officer, in the Ethereum Yellow Paper that specified the Ethereum Virtual Machine. Subsequently, a Swiss non-profit foundation, the Ethereum Foundation (Stiftung Ethereum), was created as well. Development was funded by an online public crowdsale during July–August 2014, with the participants buying the Ethereum value token (ether) with another digital currency, Bitcoin.
While there was early praise for the technical innovations of Ethereum, questions were also raised about its security and scalability.
In 2019, an Ethereum foundation employee named Virgil Griffith was arrested by the US government for presenting at a blockchain conference in North Korea.