Mr Salmond told MSPs he was "honoured" to reveal the referendum date, which he called an "historic day when the people will decide Scotland's future".
"I believe it will be the day we take responsibility for our country, when we are able to speak with our own voice, choose our own direction and contribute in our own distinct way", he told his Holyrood colleagues.
ITV News Scotland Correspondent Debi Edward reports:
He called the Scottish Independence Referendum Bill "the most important legislation to be introduced" since the Scottish Parliament was established in 1999.
"Next year the choice facing the people is one of two futures. A 'no' vote means a future of governments we didn't vote for, imposing cuts and policies we didn't support", Mr Salmond said.
"A 'yes' vote means a future where we can be absolutely certain, 100% certain, that the people of Scotland will get the government they vote for", he added
The First Minister and his Deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, wrote on Twitter following the announcement:
But Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont accused Mr Salmond of having put the country "on pause" until the referendum, as she urged him to "get on with dealing with the real issues".
Ms Lamont said, "What I do not understand is that if leaving the United Kingdom is key to Scotland's prosperity, why he wants Scotland to languish for another year and half before we get the chance to vote on it".
Former chancellor Alistair Darling, who chairs the Better Together group campaigning to keep Scotland in the UK, said the countdown to the referendum has begun "after months of unnecessary delay".
"We now have just over 545 days to go to win the arguments and win the referendum", he added.
Scottish Secretary Michael Moore said he was "confident" that when Scots go to the polls they will vote in favour of Scotland staying "within a strong and secure UK family".
When asked about the referendum date, the Prime Minister's spokesman said it is a "matter for the Scottish Government".