Obama and his wife Michelle were greeted outside the White House by President George W Bush and First Lady Laura Bush.
The traditional invitation from the incumbent president was issued earlier than normal to impress on the world the government was stable despite the continuing financial crisis.
The Obamas stayed in the White House for two hours while crowds lined railings outside the grounds to catch a glimpse of the winner of last week’s election with the man he will replace.
Obama left without making a statement but both men posed for photographers, recognising the significance of the first black man to take office in a building built by slaves for the country’s early white elite.
Obama was joined by his new press secretary Robert Gibbs and the head of his transition team John Podesta.
The outgoing president’s staff were also available and prior to the meeting his press secretary Dana Perino said the occasion was brimming with importance.
“I don’t think any of us can understand what it’s like for two people who understand what it is to be the commander-in-chief, to be the leader of our great country,” she said.
The incoming first couple flew into Washington DC especially for the meeting. Earlier in the morning Obama was filmed dropping his daughters to school in Chicago.
The meeting was the first opportunity for the two men to set aside the antagonism generated during the campaign.
The Democrat’s election victory largely exploited a perception of Bush’s “failed” policies.
Yesterday a CNN opinion poll revealed 76% of Americans disapprove of Bush’s presidency, a record since the ratings began and worse than Richard Nixon’s when he was ousted from office after the Watergate scandal.
However, Obama’s staff have gone to great lengths to praise the outgoing team saying the commitment of the Bush administration to oversee an easy transition has been “extraordinary”.
Despite the choreographed political truce, a top Obama aide signalled the president-elect could wipe away some hallmarks of the Bush years, including curbs on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research and moves to open new lands to oil drilling.
Bush reportedly planned a wave of last-minute initiatives to advance his Republican party’s agenda.
Obama has already talked of urgent action to confront the global economic crisis, accompanied by notes of caution on foreign policy.
The president-elect also indicated his desire to develop his ability to exploit internet communications for political purposes.
Yesterday, he launched Change.gov. The website is designed to offer a window to the workings of government and harness the enthusiasm of more than 10 million people who he kept in contact with through email during the campaign.