Jack Sheaffer was born in southern Arizona in 1929. Soon after his birth the family moved to an 88-acre farm in Amado. He began working at another farm at age eleven for eleven dollars a day and worked hard throughout his life. Sheaffer originally wanted to become a boxer and competed as an amateur for a short time. He attended Tucson High School, graduated in 1947, and was awarded a scholarship to attend the Fred Archer School of Photography in Los Angeles for one year. Upon his return to Tucson, he worked for Sam Levitz, then a commercial photographer who was the head photographer for the Arizona Daily Star on contract, and paid by the picture. In October 1950, Sheaffer enlisted in the United States Air Force and was sent to England. He left the Air Force in November 1954 and returned to Tucson. The following spring Sheaffer joined Tunney Wong and picked up contract work for the Arizona Daily Star. They earned up to five dollars a picture, and were only paid this wage if the photograph was used in the paper. Sheaffer free-lanced widely taking portraits of individuals and families, visiting celebrities, civic events, tragic accidents, and life in a small city.
Sheaffer mainly used a Speed Graphic camera that took 4X5 inch negatives, but he eventually switched to 35 mm film in 1967. During the 1960s, he ran the Mission Valley Inn at 5624 South Mission Road that had a "beverage house" (liquor store). His sister, Lucille Young was his long-time secretary and managed his collection of negatives. Sheaffer was Arizona Daily Star's chief photographer between 1955 and 1982. He formally joined the Star staff in 1973.
On July 22, 1982, he was badly burned in an electrical explosion at the Tucson Newspaper plant. He underwent over twenty-five operations and one hundred blood transfusions in St. Louis, MO. and Tucson. In 1985, Sheaffer compiled a book with Steve Emerine entitled, Jack Sheaffer's Tucson, 1945-1956. It contains approximately five hundred of his photographs with commentary from Sheaffer about each image. Jack Sheaffer was an active and longtime member of the Tucson Press Club. Jack Sheaffer passed away on March 16, 1999 leaving behind a photographic legacy that documents the people, places, and events that shaped Tucson and southern Arizona.