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Appetizers made with shellfish topped with or dipped in a spicy tomato-based sauce and served in small cups were popular in the United States beginning in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We owe the cocktail in shrimp cocktail to Prohibition in the 1920s. If you couldn't drink a cocktail — not legally, anyway — you could at least eat one and make good use of your stemware in the process. 

One evening Trudy and Pete Campbell join Trudy’s well-to-do parents, Tom and Jeannie Vogel, at a Manhattan restaurant for dinner. They begin with appetizers. When Trudy, every ounce Daddy’s little girl, announces she has “great news,” her mother, delightfully surprised, answers, “Already?” It’s not what she thinks. Trudy isn’t pregnant; she and Pete have found an apartment they can’t afford on 83rd Street. When Tom offers to help with the rent, Pete thanks him but, contrary to Trudy’s wishes, says they’d rather wait.

“For what?” barks Tom. “Start your life already. You’re gonna be a rich bastard on your own someday and waiting is a bunch of bullshit.”

Good advice, especially when you’re staring, as Trudy is, at the shrimp cocktail she’s ordered.

Appetizers made with shellfish topped with or dipped in a spicy tomato-based sauce and served in small cups were popular in the United States beginning in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We owe the cocktail in shrimp cocktail to Prohibition in the 1920s. If you couldn’t drink a cocktail — not legally, anyway — you could at least eat one and make good use of your stemware in the process.