Cryptographer colleagues W. Scott Stornetta and Stuart Haber’s paper “How to Time-Stamp a Digital Document,” published in 1991, is what many consider to be the first incarnation of blockchain technology. Stornetta and Haber set out to create an immutable ledger, and in doing so, they came across what they deemed “a naïve solution.” That solution relied on a central authority, a “digital safety-deposit box” that could record the date and time a certain document was created and also store a copy of it. The main problem with this method came down to trust. “Nothing in this scheme prevents the time-stamping service from colluding with a client,” Stornetta and Haber wrote.
They’d hit a dead end—or so they thought. Since their original mission seemed undoable, they attempted instead to disprove the possibility of creating an immutable ledger. In doing so, they came up with one that wouldn’t require a trusted central authority. In other words, they ended up creating a distributed immutable ledger.