Stephen Wilhite, Programmer Who Invented GIFs, Dead at 74

Stephen Wilhite, who is most well-known for inventing gifs, has died. According to The Verge, Wilhite was 74 at the time of his death. The publication reported that Wilhite's cause of death was complications from COVID-19.

Based on his obituary, Wilhite died on March 14. He passed away days after he celebrated his 74th birthday, which fell on March 3. His wife, Kathaleen, confirmed that Wilhite died of COVID-19, per NBC News. The creator leaves behind a son, David, four stepchildren, 11 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Wilhite's funeral was held on Tuesday in Milford, Ohio.

Wilhite will be widely remembered for his creation of gifs, looping animated images. He developed gifs, which stand for graphics interchange format, while he was working for CompuServe in the 1980s. His wife Kathaleen has spoken out about her husband's work on the creation, giving some insight into how the now-popular form of social media currency came to be. She said, "He invented GIF all by himself — he actually did that at home and brought it into work after he perfected it. He would figure out everything privately in his head and then go to town programming it on the computer." Following his work with CompuServe and on gifs, Wilhite retired in the early 2000s. He later spent his time traveling, camping, and building model trains.

Amid his retirement, gifs experienced a major boom. In the 2010s, gifs were everywhere and, if you've taken a glance at the internet lately, they still are. "Gif" was even pronounced as the word of the year in 2012 by the Oxford American Dictionary. A year later, Wilhite weighed in on one of the most popular debates surrounding gifs — their correct pronunciation. He set the record straight by telling the New York Times, "The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations. They are wrong. It is a soft 'G,' pronounced 'jif.' End of story."

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The creator was recognized for his work in 2013 when he was granted the Lifetime Achievement Award from Webby (you can view his acceptance speech for the award in the above clip). His wife Kathaleen reflected on the accolade, saying that it was a "wonderful moment in his life going to New York and winning that award." Although, she added that "they should have honored him a lot sooner." Kathaleen also said that when it comes to having created gifs, it was the thing that Wilhite was most proud of in his career.