The bubbles that built America

These six bubbles - from the telegraph to the real-estate boom - show how Americans end up better off after a bubble, says the author of "Pop! Why bubbles are great for the economy" (Harper Collins).

The telegraph
When painter Samuel F.B. Morse built the first telegraph in the late 1840s, he laid the groundwork for the original information superhighway.
The telegraph
After Samuel Morse first showed Congress how he could send information via wires in the early 1840s, the nation caught telegraph fever. Between 1846 and 1852, the number of telegraph miles in the United States rose more than ten-fold, from 2,000 to 23,000.

But many of the lines were redundant - by 1849, three telegraphs vied for the tiny amount of traffic between Boston and New York. And many others were plagued by floods, weather, and poor connectivity. The combination of excess capacity, brutal competition and technological kinks led most of the start-up telegraph companies to fail.

But the country wound up with a new communications infrastructure that created a national market in information. The rapid spread of cheap telegraph set other key innovations into motion: the creation of the Associated Press, the ability to send money via wire through Western Union, and the real-time transmission of stock data.

The telegraph

The railroad

The 1920s

The Internet

Real estate

Alternative energy

Fortune's Adam Lashinsky explores why Silicon Valley's premier VCs have that old-time eco-religion. (more)
Robert Shiller called the tech-stock crash just as the Nasdaq peaked. But he is also the expert on the real estate market. And where does he think it's headed now? Uh-oh. (more)