GIF inventor Stephen Wilhite dies, Twitter pays tribute with flood of memes

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. Getty Images

Though the name Stephen Wilhite may not ring a bell, you’re more than likely familiar with his legacy as the creator of the ubiquitous GIF.

Wilhite worked for the early online service provider CompuServe in the 1980s when he created the Graphic Interchange Format or GIF. Anyone active on the internet has seen and likely used a GIF (or hundreds or thousands) on social media and in text conversations.

Wilhite, 74, died on March 14 following complications from COVID-19.

“He invented GIF all by himself — he actually did that at home and brought it into work after he perfected it,” Wilhite’s wife Kathaleen told The Verge. “He would figure out everything privately in his head and then go to town programming it on the computer.”

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Wilhite retired in the early 2000s and was able to see his invention seize the internet.

He even won a Webby Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013, where he settled the age-old pronunciation debate of “gif” vs. “jif.” While accepting his award, Wilhite played a dramatic GIF that read: “It’s pronounced ‘JIF,’ not ‘GIF.'”

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Many Twitter users made posts to the social media platform using their favourite GIFs to honour Wilhite’s legacy.

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Wilhite leaves behind a large family, including his wife, Kathaleen R. (née Bauer) Wilhite, stepchildren Rick Groves, Robin Landrum, Renee (Daniel) Bennett, Rebecca (Brent) Boaz, and children David Wilhite.

He was also the grandfather of 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

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