Steve Wilhite, the creator of the GIF, died last week due to COVID-19 complications, said his wife, according to NPR. He was 74.

  • “Honey I don’t feel good. I don’t feel good at all,” Wilhite reportedly said to his wife, Kathaleen Wilhite.
  • His family took him to the hospital where his symptoms began to worsen.

He eventually progressed into a coma and passed away shortly after, reported NPR.

About Wilhite: Wilhite was the father to five children, grandfather to 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, according to his obituary.

  • “Steve retired as Chief Architect from America online, was the inventor of the GIF, and received the Webby Lifetime Achievement Award in New York. He was an avid camper and loved traveling ... Even with all of his accomplishments, he remained a very humble, kind, and good man,” his obituary said.
  • “It’s just so bad. It’s just so tragic,” said Kathaleen to NPR.

What is a GIF? GIF stands for graphic interchange format.

  • A GIF is a looping image format, made of compressed images that display like a short, looping video, not more than a few seconds long, according to NBC.
  • The GIF “became social media’s primary method of conveying emotion and memetic communication. The GIF format has been used as a convenient way to show graphs, drawings and simple animations,” according to NBC.

How was the GIF created? In 1987, while working for the company CompuServe, Wilhite and his team were tasked with finding a way to send clear images with the burden of slow, dial-up speeds, reported CNN.

  • Wilhite figured out how to compress images in a way that they wouldn’t lose sharpness and would load and appear quickly on any computer, CNN reports.
  • The first GIF was a short clip of an airplane.
The first GIF, created by Steve Wilhite, was of a plane flying through a pixelated sky. | Steven Wilhite, The Fanatic

How to pronounce GIF: In the early 2010s, there were widespread arguments on the internet whether the clip name was pronounced “gif” or “jif” like the peanut butter, according to CNN.

  • At the Webby Award ceremony in 2013, Wilhite put an end to the argument.
  • “It’s pronounced JIF, not GIF,” said Wilhite during the ceremony, according to CNN.
  • “Graphics Interchange Format. Graphics. Not Jraphics,” wrote Dan Cederholm in rebuttal, according to CNN.