GIF Inventor Dies at 74

Stephen Wilhite was working at CompuServe in 1987 when he invented the popular short-video format.

Stephen Wilhite accepts a Webby lifetime achievement award, New York, May 2013.
Stephen Wilhite accepts a Webby lifetime achievement award, New York, May 2013.
Webby Awards via AP

Stephen Wilhite, the inventor of the internet-popular short-video format, the GIF, has died. He was 74.

His wife, Kathaleen, said Thursday in a phone interview that he died of COVID on March 14.

Wilhite, who lived in Milford, Ohio, won a Webby lifetime achievement award in 2013 for inventing the GIF, which decades after its creation became omnipresent in memes and on social media, often used as a cheeky representation of a cultural moment.

Wilhite was working at CompuServe in 1987 when he invented the GIF. β€œI saw the format I wanted in my head and then I started programming,” he told The New York Times in 2013, saying the first image was an airplane and insisting that the file had only one pronunciation - a soft β€œG,” like Jif peanut butter. Those using the hard β€œG,” as in β€œgot” or β€œgiven,” β€œare wrong,” he said. β€œEnd of story.”

In that interview, he said the '90s-era dancing baby GIF is a favorite of his.

β€œThere’s way more to him than inventing GIF," Kathaleen Wilhite said of her husband, who loved trains, with a room dedicated to them in the basement of their house with β€œenormous train tracks,” as well as taking camping trips. Still, even after he retired in 2001, β€œhe never stopped programming,” she said.

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