The drop was the largest since November 1991, when payrolls plummeted by 94,000 people.
Industry-wide, there were several significant job cuts. Delphi Automotive Systems Corp. slashed 7,600 positions, while Volvo Trucks North America and Wabash National Corp. have made layoffs to a lesser extent.
During the first week in April, jobs were cut at Visteon Corp. and Mack Trucks Inc.
Many analysts believe manufacturing is already in a recession and some worry the weakness could spread and end the nation's record-long stretch of uninterrupted growth, which started its 11th year in March.
The decline in total payrolls followed a 140,000-person gain in February, according to revised Department of Labor figures.