Stephen Wilhite, creator of the GIF, dies at age 74

Mar 24, 2022, 8:06 AM | Updated: 11:31 am

FILE: Steve Wilhite, inventor of the GIF file, poses with an award backstage at the 17th Annual Web...

FILE: Steve Wilhite, inventor of the GIF file, poses with an award backstage at the 17th Annual Webby Awards at Cipriani Wall Street on May 21, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for The Webby Awards)

(Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for The Webby Awards)

Stephen Wilhite, the man who created the looping animated GIF image format, has died at the age of 74.

According to an obituary, Wilhite died on March 14 — just days after his 74th birthday on March 3.

He died of COVID-19, his wife, Kathaleen, confirmed to NBC News.

In 1987, Wilhite was working at CompuServe, the first major commercial online service provider. At the time, customers used hourly subscriptions to access email or transfer files.

Wilhite and his team created the Graphics Interchange Format to compress images and make them accessible for those early modem speeds.

And while receiving the Webby Lifetime Achievement award in 2013, Wilhite confirmed GIF is pronounced with a soft “G,” like the Peanut Butter brand, Jif.

In 2012, GIF was pronounced word of the year by the Oxford American Dictionary, thanks to its resurgence in popularity among bloggers, especially on Tumblr and other sites.

“Without the .gif, the internet as we know it would be a different place,” Jason Reed, art director at the Daily Dot, told NPR. “It’s a tight medium that you can learn a lot about storytelling within, especially tuned for the attention span of the internet.”


Wilhite is survived by his wife, four stepchildren, a son, 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, according to his obituary.

“He was an avid camper and loved traveling and camping,” Wilhite’s obituary read. “Even with all his accomplishments, he remained a very humble, kind, and good man.”

Funeral services were held in Ohio on Tuesday.

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Stephen Wilhite, creator of the GIF, dies at age 74