The Institute for Supply Management said its national manufacturing index rose to its highest level since last June. Orders, hiring and production were all higher.
A measure of manufacturing employment rose to a nine-month high, a hopeful sign ahead of Friday's monthly jobs report.
The manufacturing report jolted stock indexes out of a morning stupor. The Dow was up 96 points to 13,310 a half-hour before noon, putting the average on course for its highest close since Dec. 28, 2007.
In a separate report, the Commerce Department said construction spending ticked up slighly in March, following two months of declines.
Sam Stovall, chief equity strategist at S&P Capital IQ, said the two reports looked like evidence that the U.S. economic recovery is on solid footing despite turmoil in Europe and a weak jobs report last month.
"I think investors are encouraged there's at least one place in the world where it's still worth investing," Stovall said. "They're not ready to give up on this bull market yet."
Other indexes pushed higher. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 14 points to 1,412, seven points shy of its closing high for the year, set on April 2. The Nasdaq composite climbed 32 points to 3,079.
Major car companies are reporting monthly auto sales on Tuesday. Industry watchers expect overall sales to rise 2 percent for April compared with a year earlier.
The S&P finished April in the red, its first losing month since November. The Dow managed a tiny gain.
Among stocks making big moves:
— Chesapeake Energy Corp. jumped 7 percent on reports that the company will replace its chairman, Aubrey McClendon. McClendon, the company's founder, was under fire for taking out more than $1 billion in loans using the company's wells as collateral. Chesapeake recently agreed to end the program that allowed McClendon to take personal stakes in the wells. McClendon will stay on as CEO.
— Archer Daniels Midland Co. gained 7 percent after the food conglomerate reported profits that beat analysts' expectations. Profits dropped by nearly a third over the past year, pulled down by one-time charges and lower weaker results from its ethanol and oilseeds businesses.
— Avon Products Inc. fell 8 percent, the biggest drop in the S&P 500. The company said earnings plunged 82 percent, hurt by a bigger restructuring charge, commodity costs and rising labor costs. The results were worse than analysts had expected.