Stephen Wilhite, Creator of the GIF, Dies at 74

Stephen Wilhite, an inventor behind the creation of the GIF, died last week due to complications from COVID. Wilhite's wife Kathaleen revealed the news in a chat with The Verge, saying the programmer was surrounded by family when he passed. He was 74.

Wilhite first began working on the GIF, or Graphics Interchange Format, beginning in the early 1980s, looking for an image format that would display images in high-resolution at a time when the internet was at its slowest.

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

For his work on the format, Wilhite received a Webby Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013. That same year, Wilhite settled a debate that internet users still happen to have to this very day. According to the programmer, GIF is said with a "soft G," akin to how you say the famous peanut butter brand.

"The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations," Wilhite said in an interview with the New York Times. "They are wrong. It is a soft 'G,' pronounced 'jif.' End of story."

Wilhite ended up retiring—as Chief Architect at America Online, nonetheless—in the early 2000s, allowing him and his wife plenty of time to travel and camp. In his free time, the programmer also liked to build model trains in his sprawling basement.

"When we had the house built, we actually had a whole section in the basement for his train room. He always did the designs and electric work for the layout," his wife added.

His is survived by his wife Kathaleen, five children, 11 grandchildren, and three great grandchildren.