Lightning in a bottle (also known as catch lightning in a bottle or lightning in a jar) is an idiomatic expression used in situations where a very unlikely or lucky success is achieved.
It can also be used to say there is a difficult challenge ahead.
Sometimes the expression is said about things that don’t hold up for a long time, or illusive.
An expression bearing similar meaning would be: “one-hit wonder”.
The expression was coined based on Benjamin Franklin’s kite experiment, which attempted to capture electricity in a Leyden-jar with the help of a kite.
In conclusion, the term was invented during the 19th century.
Originally the term was used in a more literal sense, referring directly to Franklin’s experiment.
During the first half of the 20th century, lightning in a bottle became part of baseball lingo in the U.S., and was popularized by Leo Durocher. This is when the expression gained its meaning of “difficult task ahead”.
It only became a synonym for success during the 80s and 90s, and finally reached its peak during the early 2000s.