Cryptocurrency enthusiasts and blockchain backers see serious potential for top coins like Bitcoin and Ethereum, which could upend traditional financial systems and impact a wide array of industries.

But there's almost nothing serious about Dogecoin (DOGE -0.86%), a so-called "joke" coin that was inspired by a meme of a Shiba Inu dog. Actually, there is one serious detail: the price gains that Dogecoin has experienced so far in 2021. Dogecoin started the year at less than a penny per coin before surging in late January, as a byproduct of the meme stock trend that impacted GameStop, AMC, and others.

But Dogecoin hasn't backed down: it reached a high above $0.73 in May amid the most recent bull run. While it's currently off that mark by over 50% amid wider crypto market declines, Dogecoin's price still sits about 60 times higher than it did on January 1 and it has high-profile advocates nudging it forward. Here's a brief look at how Dogecoin became much more than just a meme.

Shiba Inu dog.

Image Source: Getty Images.

A New Breed

Dogecoin's origins are a joke. Inspired by the famous Doge meme and the early rise of a nascent Bitcoin in 2013, Adobe software engineer Jackson Palmer posited the idea of Dogecoin as satire. Palmer's idea was put into action when he partnered with IBM software engineer Billy Markus soon after, with Dogecoin's code based on the existing cryptocurrency Litecoin.

Dogecoin investors embraced the goofiness and offbeat origins of the coin, with community members raising money to sponsor a NASCAR vehicle and send the Jamaican bobsled team to the Winter Olympics in 2014. In the years that followed, Dogecoin largely languished on the fringes of the crypto market with a price at a fraction of a penny. After all, it was designed as a joke. It was never really going to be worth anything, right?

In summer 2020, Dogecoin began to earn more attention on social media, including from Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk as well as YouTube star Jake Paul. Attempts to pump the price up to $1 per coin didn't pan out, but the price did start gradually creeping up toward the end of the year -- even though it still mostly sat beneath one cent per coin.

The Dog Days End

Amidst January's meme stock fiasco, in which social media-led buying sprees sent the prices for GameStop, AMC, and other stocks soaring, investors began looking for the next stock to buy cheap and try to pump to startling new heights. In just over a week, Dogecoin's price jumped from under a penny to nearly $0.08 per coin, before settling around $0.05 for most of spring.

Things only got wilder after that. Dogecoin popped up to $0.40 per coin in April before pulling back, but then leapt again to an all-time high of $0.73 in early May. The wider crypto market has been down since then, in part due to Tesla halting Bitcoin payments for its cars due to the environmental impact of cryptocurrency mining. Even at around half the all-time high price, Dogecoin is still up about 6,000% from the start of the year -- giving it around a $44 billion market cap.

Dogecoin still has its doubters, and seems more susceptible to the whims of social media sentiment and influencers than other, less-volatile cryptocurrencies. But it also has more true believers than ever, including Musk—who is working with Dogecoin developers—and billionaire investor Mark Cuban, whose Dallas Mavericks NBA team accepts DOGE for merchandise purchases. It also has copycat coins, like Shiba Inu.

Even so, despite the considerable and rapid rise in price, it's tough to call Dogecoin a serious investment. It's more like a rollercoaster: strap in and enjoy the ride, and pray that you don't feel sick in the end.