A Man, a Plan, a Canal: Erie!
The $7.9 million bet that made America.
Today, what's left of the Erie Canal meanders—largely unused—through an upstate New York that has been bypassed by the last several economic booms. Its economic utility seems so minute that the development rights to the canal's shore were sold to a politically connected developer for a mere $30,000. A sad fate for the creation that French economist Michael Chevalier in 1835 described as: "simple as a work of art, prodigious as an economic artery."
Daniel Gross is the Moneybox columnist for Slate and the business columnist for Newsweek. You can e-mail him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter. His latest book, Dumb Money: How Our Greatest Financial Minds Bankrupted the Nation, has just been published in paperback.