Obama has told a sea of screaming supporters that he is walking proof that anything can happen in America.
"... change has come to America," he said.
"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where any things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive ... who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer," he said.
"Americans have sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states, we are and always will be the United States of America," he said.
"It's been a long time coming but tonight - because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment - change has come to America."
He was elated and thanked his family for their support.
But he added: "Even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest in our lifetime.
"Two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century."
He spoke of US troops risking their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan and the challenges of providing health care and eduction to a new generation of Americans.
He also spoke of repairing America's relations with the world.
"The road ahead will be long and our climb will be steep," he said.
"We may not get there in one year, or even in one term. But America, I have never been more hopeful that we will get there.
"I promise you, we as a people will get there."
He spoke too of the phone call John McCain made to concede defeat.
"A little bit earlier this evening I received an extraordinarily gracious call from Senator McCain ," Obama said.
" Senator McCain fought long and hard in this campaign and he's fought even longer and harder for the country that he loves.
"He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine. We are better off for the service rendered by this brave and selfless leader.
"I congratulate him, I congratulate Governor Palin and all that they've achieved and I look forward to working with them to renew this nation ... in the months ahead."
Obama thanked "my best friend for the last 16 years, the rock of our family, the love of my life, the nation's next first lady Michelle Obama" and his two young daughters.
They had earned the new puppy going with the family to the White House, he said.
Obama also thanked "the vice president of the United States", his running mate Joe Biden.
Obama, 47, will be inaugurated the 44th US president on January 20, 2009, and inherit an economy mired in the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and a nuclear showdown with Iran .
Television networks projected Obama's victory over McCain after Obama solidified traditional Democratic states and cut deep into the Republican territory which his rival needed to control to win the White House.
Obama's historic inauguration will complete a stunning ascent to the pinnacle of US and global politics from national obscurity just four years ago and close an eight year era of turbulence under President George W Bush .
He will take office with Democrats holding a monopoly in power in Washington, after an epochal election which sparked a rare generational and political realignment and finally snuffed out an era of Republican control.
Obama is promising to renew bruised ties with US allies, and to engage some of the most fierce US foes like Iran and North Korea . He has vowed to pass tackle climate change and provide health care to all Americans.
His presidency also marks a stunning cultural shift, with Obama, the son of Kenyan father and white mother from Kansas, the first African American president of a nation still riven by racial divides.
When he launched his campaign on a chilly day in Illinois in February 2007, Obama forged a mantra of change which powered him throughout the longest, most costly US presidential campaign in history.
With a stunning grassroots political movement, powered by massive multi-million dollar fundraising, Obama first beat Hillary Clinton , and the Democratic Party's then pre-eminent political machine.
Obama strode towards victory by capturing the states of Pennsylvania, the key battleground which McCain needed to win to keep his long-shot hopes of victory alive.
In a sweet moment for Democrats, he also seized the midwestern battleground of Ohio and captured New Mexico and Iowa, two states won by Bush in 2004 to close out McCain's possible route towards the White House.
Obama had led national and battleground polls and had capitalise on the fear of Americans pitched into the deep financial crisis, especially as he appeared to be presidential in a string of debates.
McCain had argued that Obama was too inexperienced to be US commander in chief and would pursue "socialist" redistribution policies that would leave the economy mired in recession.
McCain, 72, an Arizona senator, would have been the oldest man ever inaugurated for a first term in the White House.
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