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A Short History of Animated GIFs

Animated GIF files are an integral part of everyone's life these days. We just can't seem to do without them. Strange as this may seem, however, people long ago had to do without these wonderful little marvels. It wasn't until 1903 that the first animated GIF was ever made at Thomas Edison's Menlo Park laboratory, and further animated GIF projects there had to be cancelled, as the computer had not yet been invented. Edison died a broken and beaten man knowing that he had not invented the computer, but his vision was preserved: a young assisstant was able to hand-code the first animated GIF on a series of punch cards, which proved to be incredibly insightful.

This is that very first animated GIF, as it was seen on the UNIVAC back in 1953. Keep in mind, however, that the GIF took 17 days to run to completion on a computer the size of a small army base! It took 16 men working in shifts around the clock to feed the millions of cards into the card-reader. This GIF stunned its audience of officers, congressmen, and intelligence operatives who realized the awesome potential this technology presented. It was immediately classified as top secret and word of the "Running Dog" project was kept under wraps.

During the Vietnam War, the animated GIF project was revealed in the book, The Pentagon Papers , which then led to increasing use of the term "Running Dog" to identify those who supported the increasingly unpopular conflict. Further, it led to a Congressional inquiry into the military use of animated GIFs that lasted 3 years, from 1977 to 1980. (Increasing pressure from the right wing of the Republican party brought an abrupt halt to the investigation.) Although the above GIF was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the findings of the Congressional inquiry remain sealed.

Fortunately for industry and commerce, certain non-military aspects of animated GIF technology were made available in the middle 50's, and that led to an amplification of an already booming economy.

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