The symphony was one of a series of six symphonies commissioned in 1786 by the Concerts de la Loge Olympique, a popular concert subscription in Paris (hence the name for the series as a whole). Like the other Paris symphonies, "the Bear" was written for the largest orchestral ensemble that Haydn had written for up until that time, including reinforced woodwind parts and a large string section. Despite its number, the symphony was actually the last of the six Paris symphonies to be composed. It was completed in 1786.
It was first performed in 1787 in Paris by the Concert de la Loge Olympique, directed by the celebrated mulatto musician, Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges.