Jacob M. Schaffer, 83, a government employe for 51 years who worked for the Department of Agriculture, the War Production Board and the Commerce Department, died of cancer Saturday at Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park.

After his retirement from Commerce in 1964, Mr Schaffer was a consultant to the Army laboratories in Natick, Mass., until his death.

He was born in New York City and moved to Washington when he was a boy. He began his career in Agriculture in 1914 as a laboratory assistant. He later earned bachelor's and master's degrees in chemistry at George Washington University and became a chemist at Agriculture. He also did graduate work at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Mr. Schaffer's work at Agriculture was interrupted by World War II service at the War Production Board. He joined the Commerce Department in 1952 and was a food official at the time of his retirement in 1964.

Mr. Schaffer was a member-emeritus of the American Chemical Society. He wrote numerous papers that were published in technical journals.

He also was a former president of the Southwest Washington Citizens Association and of the Beltsville-Vansville Citizens Association.

Survivors include his wife, Frances, of the home in Silver Spring; a son, Dr. J. David, of Sea Island, Ga., four grandsons, and four great-grandchildren.