Wilhite created the GIF when he was working at CompuServe (an early US ISP). According to The New York Times, the format was originally intended to help the company display things like color weather maps, although the first image he created was an animated paper airplane. More than 10 years after his retirement, he remains proud of his creation but there’s one thing he’s been wanting to clarify — the pronunciation of the word. Fittingly, Wilhite used a GIF for his Webby acceptance speech, reminding us “it’s pronounced JIF, not GIF.”
A Short History of the Phenakistoscope, The Original Animated GIF
The optical toy, the phenakistoscope, was an early animation device that used the persistence of vision principle to create an illusion of motion. It was invented by Joseph Plateau in 1841.The phenakistoscope used a spinning disc attached vertically to a handle. Arrayed around the disc’s center were a series of drawings showing phases of the animation, and cut through it were a series of equally spaced radial slits. The user would spin the disc and look through the moving slits at the disc’s reflection in a mirror. The scanning of the slits across the reflected images kept them from simply blurring together, so that the user would see a rapid succession of images that appeared to be a single moving picture. A variant of it had two discs, one with slits and one with pictures; this was slightly more unwieldy but needed no mirror. Unlike the zoetrope and its successors, the phenakistoscope could only practically be used by one person at a time.